COMMENT More urgent to Prime Najib Abdul Razak than picking a suitable date for the country's general election would be deciding whether his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, deserves to be in his cabinet of ministers - one equipped to carry out his so-called reform agenda.

The home minister, already notorious over the last six years for foot-in-the-mouth statements and public exhibitions of ethnic chauvinism like the waving of a ‘keris', has now topped his record in bizarre conduct and statement.

This grandson of Umno's distinguished and redoubtable founder (Onn Jaafar), and son of someone (Hussein Onn) who is regarded as an exemplar of leadership as a form of honest stewardship, was quoted yesterday as saying something that is a flagrant abdication of a home minister's fiduciary duty.

As one of the more crucial exponents of the rule of law, and at a time when a dysfunctional wing of his ministry - the police force - is besieged by the perception that it is palpably remiss in its law enforcement and crime prevention functions, the home minister delivered himself of another outlandish statement.

pkr election poll bus attacked in kelantan storyHishammuddin said there was no need to guarantee the safety of the campaign bus used by the opposition leader on an electioneering tour of the country, already stoned once and daubed with red paint twice.

Menaced three times already in the past two weeks of its tour of the peninsula, leaders of Pakatan Rakyat appealed to the police toensure the safety of the bus and its personnel in the run-up to the 13th general election.

"No need for guarantees," the home minister was quoted yesterday as saying in response.

"It is decided by the people of Johor themselves," the country's overseer of his ministry's law enforcement role unhelpfully added, as the bus tour began its Johor run yesterday in a state regarded as invulnerable Umno bastion.

Barely had the minister finished speaking than the bus was splashed with red paint in Tangkak in the afternoon, on the first stop of its tour in the southern state.

Mammoth dinner crowd

Sundry other incidents of a threatening tenor also occurred on the bus's Johor sojourn yesterday, but PKR and its supremo remained unfazed by the menace though Hishammuddin's dereliction came in for caustic comment by a slew of speakers at a sold-out dinner organised by the party in Skudai last night.

pkr johor skudai dinner 150912 03Attended by 8,000 people - the largest subscription-paying crowd to turn up for an opposition party-organised function in the state ever - the speakers told the crowd that their size was an augury of the altered balance of political power to come at the general election.

"I have heard it on good authority," hollered Chua Jui Meng, the PKR state chief, "that Umno expects the opposition to win nine to 10 parliamentary seats here."

"This is an Umno bastion but it will soon be its burial ground," asserted the former MCA-appointed minister with what, from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, was understandable hyperbole.

Johor has 26 parliamentary and 56 state seats. The opposition bagged one federal seat (DAP took Bakri) and five state seats (DAP, 4 and PAS, 1).

Those figures are set for inflation at the polls in which Hishammuddin is expected to move from his Sembrong bailiwick to Kota Tinggi, a move that of itself is a sign of his and his party's vulnerability.

umno 2007 pemuda keris 061107 raisedIn mortal peril of electoral rejection
But Umno's precariousness is increasingly clad by jingoism, as in Hishammuddin's keris-waving, and compounded by fiduciary dereliction, as in his misconstruing of the duties of a home minister.

The forfeiture of the moral and political legitimacy of its governance is mirrored in the career of this scion of the party's founding bluebloods, so observably illegitimate yet remorselessly ascendant within party and cabinet.

If you are wondering why Umno, despite being in mortal peril of electoral rejection, cannot reform take a look at Hishammuddin's career: he's from the top drawer by linage, from its opposite by performance.

Expect no chastisement from superiors over his latest faux pas or a diminution of his prospects for upward mobility - plutocrats are famously exempt from the downward pulls of failure.

This is not just farce; it is burlesque parading on all fours.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.