An SMS from the Umno secretary-general had everyone jumping up and down thinking that Parliament was about to be dissolved but it turned out to be an announcement of the return of the man known as ‘Mike Tyson’.
DATUK Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor ought to be either congratulated or scolded for the frenzy he caused with an SMS sent to the media and Umno leaders.
The Umno secretary-general’s message that the Umno president would be having a press conference at 4.30pm yesterday sparked off a flood of rumours.
The SMS had invited the media and Umno supreme council members to the press conference and the immediate conclusion was that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would be announcing the general election.
Like most rumours, it did not make sense because that is not how a general election is announced but it did not deter people from believing that the polls was imminent.
Tengku Adnan has been both amused as well as annoyed by the reaction and said people had over-reacted.
The news had acquired a life of its own by Sunday morning and even people from the Opposition, foreign embassies and corporate circles were asking about it.
There were also claims that mentris besar and chief ministers had been asked to attend and the deputy prime minister had cancelled his appointments to be present.
Actually Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had already planned to be there after officiating at the Arau Umno division AGM in the morning where he denied that Parliament would be dissolved.
When it became clear that there was no supreme council meeting, the speculation moved on to new conclusions – there would be a new Umno chairman in Selangor, some big names were joining Umno and, perhaps the craziest of all, PAS was hooking up with Umno in Selangor. Others imagined that former Umno vice-president and now Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal was returning to Umno.
The announcement, when it finally happened, was quite an anti-climax – former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib had rejoined Umno.
A murmur rippled through the press corps when the tall and once handsome politician, clad in a blue shirt, walked in to take the seat between Najib and Tengku Adnan.
His hair had turned completely grey, there were bags under his eyes but he is still in good shape at 72 and he has not lost that movie star smile.
It was another classic moment in the ever revolving door of Malaysian politics. Variously known as Mat Taib and Mike Tyson, he has come full circle, back to where he said his struggle for the Malays can be fully realised.
Mat Taib was Selangor’s most successful mentri besar because of the way he changed the face of Selangor. But he was also one of Umno’s most controversial politicians, having once eloped with the Selangor princess when he was still in charge of the state and he is still persona non grata with the Selangor palace.
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His career crashed following his arrest over currency issues during a holiday on the Australian Gold Coast. He made a return under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s premiership and was appointed a minister but was dropped from the Cabinet after Najib took over the helm in 2009.
Mat Taib left Umno for PAS in 2013, then hopped over to PKR in 2015. He felt out of place in PKR because the political culture there was different from what he was used to and PKR leaders were not interested in him.
But why is Umno taking back someone who is seen as a spent force? Mat Taib’s return is hardly the return of the prodigal son, yet, they gave him a lot of face – the president himself announced it, surrounded by Umno’s top brass.
Can someone who has been through three parties in five years bring any added value to the party in Selangor? It is unlikely that Selangoreans in their 20s feel any connection to him or even know who he is.
According to Kapar Umno division chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah, Mat Taib has a place in the hearts of the older voters who remember him as a dynamic and proactive mentri besar.
“We want to contest the general election with as many people as possible on our side. Even leaders who left us and want to help us again, we welcome them,” said Faizal.
Umno has been quite particular about not taking back those who quit to join the other side. For instance, the door is still shut to Parti Pribumi founding member Kamarul Azman Habibur Rahman and vice-president Datuk Hamidah who resigned from the Opposition party on Saturday.
Minutes after the news broke, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali responded in a tweet: “Sau Kaw Po Ji … Kah Kah Kah”, referring to Mat Taib as old newspaper in Cantonese.
One view is that Umno must be quite desperate to accept Mat Taib. The other view is that Umno can now use him to go around and persuade the Malays in rural Selangor to come along with Umno.
Najib was quite aware of the hype that had gone on and he began the press conference in a slow and solemn tone, saying that he had an audience with the King two days ago.
That was when some of those in the audience almost had a heart attack – they were thinking, oh my God, this is it, he is going to dissolve Parliament.
Then without missing a beat he said his royal audience was in connection with the tahfiz fire tragedy and everybody started breathing normally again.
Mat Taib’s return to Umno would not have drawn much interest if not for that SMS from Tengku Adnan which sent the media in droves to Putra World Trade Centre yesterday.
It is quite amazing how a simple SMS had people jumping up and down, making a mountain out of a molehill. But it is a signal that it does not take much to open the gates to the election rumour mill and there will be more false alarms from now until the big day.