Thursday, May 5, 2011


PRIME MINISTER, Najib Tun Razak is at his wit’s end that Umno’s clear lack of a political ideology since 1946 has finally caught up with it to haunt its future.

It’s nothing short of amazing that the so-called backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) has managed to survive all these years without the kind of vision, mission, objectives and goals that drives ideology.

Instead of re-inventing itself along ideological lines which doesn’t preach about Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), Umno has fallen back on its usual hype with an appeal for Malay political unity.

Umno, in the absence of a political ideology, has always been about jealousy of the Chinese in business. This was whipped up into a racist rant that scared the Malays into circling the wagons and uniting under one political platform. The searing Sino-Malay race riots of May 13, 1969 were the catalyst that goaded the Malays into a unity of sorts.

Even PAS, in the wake of the riots, was moved to jump on the BN bandwagon. Gerakan and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) were virtually coerced under threats that there would be no resumption of elections and democracy otherwise.

At the same time, Umno dedicated itself with a vengeance to chopping up the non-Malay communities among as many political platforms as possible straddling the divide. The native majorities in Sabah and Sarawak, Dusun and Dayak, were not allowed to make common cause but splintered to make their superior numbers meaningless. This allowed the state governments in Kota Kinabalu and Kuching to be helmed by local Muslim proxies of the ruling elite in Kuala Lumpur.

Gerrymandering of the electoral boundaries maximised the number of Malay seats while keeping non-Malay ones, the rural heartlands in Sabah and Sarawak included, to the bare minimum.

It did not take long for PAS to realise that Umno was bent on destroying it from within so that it would remain the unchallenged platform for Malay politics. The Islamists got out in the nick of time but not before it was damaged to such an extent that it would be decades before it could regain control of Kelantan, its home ground.

Now, after having failed since 2008 – once bitten, twice shy – to woo PAS back into a unity government with Umno, Najib is advising the Islamists to cut its links with Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition alliance, ‘for the sake of Malay unity’.

Ruling elite

What is this Malay unity that Umno talks about? What’s the purpose of this unity if not to strengthen the ruling elite at the expense of the people? Whom does this unity benefit if not a handful in the ruling elite?

It’s public knowledge what Umno did in the name of Malay unity since May 13. The party did not hesitate to amass absolute power for itself, abuse power, muzzle the organs of state and make them subordinate and subservient to it and remove the checks-and-balances inherent in a democracy, maul the Federal Constitution, raid the Public Treasury at its whims and fancies, and generally avoid any semblance of transparency, good governance and public accountability.

If we are today poised to expect change and reformation in the nation’s politics, it’s not because Umno outdid itself during the Mahathir Mohamad years from 1981 to 2003 to bring us to 2008.

Mahathir, like his predecessors, thought that he could carry out another purge of Umno and get away with it. He had the experience of 1987 when he left out Kelantan Prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah after Umno Baru was registered to replace the outlawed Umno.

It transpired in the courts that Mahathir’s 43-vote victory over Razaleigh in the presidential election was from illegal branches. Instead of awarding Razaleigh the party presidency, a compliant Judiciary gave Mahathir a new lease of political life by declaring the entire party unlawful.

Mahathir and Umno Baru survived Razaleigh.

Mahathir thought that he could get away with the same trick twice when he sacked Anwar Ibrahim, his then deputy prime minister, in 1998. No one, Mahathir reckoned, could survive outside Umno as proven by Razaleigh earlier. But Anwar has proven Mahathir wrong in the subsequent rise of his PKR, ostensibly wedded to change and reformation, but like Umno has Ketuanan Melayu as its core philosophy.

Unlike Umno, however, PKR has no qualms about allowing the DAP to eye every urban and Chinese seat in Malaysia, across both sides of the South China Sea. This has undercut the BN ground from underneath Umno and resulted in the destruction of Gerakan in Penang and the MCA being relegated to the sidelines along with the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), the MIC, and the PPP.

Therein lies Umno’s dilemma which Anwar privately hopes will force his old party to re-negotiate Malay unity with him on his terms. This will never happen as long as Mahathir is still alive and his children are in public office.

Feudal past

In the absence of Umno, PAS and PKR coming together, an unlikely event, the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia are freed from their feudal past and spoilt for choice in exercising their political options.

It’s a fact that the bigger the community, the greater the tendency for it to be politically divided if there is any number of competing options. One has to only look at India where a short-lived experiment by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – for a Hindu state – ended in disaster after one term and 11 days in office. India is 85% Hindu.

The reverse is equally true but Umno, at the height of Malay unity, ensured that even the tiniest communities in Malaysia like the Bidayuh and Orang Ulu in Sarawak were carved up among three political parties or more.

It may no longer be so. The minorities are striking back as evident in the rise of Hindraf Makkal Sakthi in the wake of the disputed conversion of the late Everest hero Maniam Moorthy, 36, to Islam.

The Orang Asli is on the warpath for land rights.

The Christians in Malaysia are increasingly unhappy with the ‘restrictions’ placed from time-to-time on their faith which is predominant in Sabah and Sarawak and assertive in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Dusun and Dayak are flogging the Borneo Agenda, the unrealised promises of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement in international forums. This will translate into votes that will bring down Umno in Sabah and the Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) in Sarawak.

The Chinese in Sabah and Sarawak have shed their traditional parochialism and see the benefits of uniting under one national political platform like the DAP and Lim Kit Siang. This was proven in the April 16 Sarawak state election when the DAP captured 12 seats and awarded another, Batu Lintang, to PKR.

Third force

Malay unity calls are a case of too little, too late. Mahathir should have thought twice before doing a number on Razaleigh and incarcerating Anwar.

He does his so-called legacy no good by consistently attributing Malay political disunity–whatever it means–to Anwar and PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat. His recommendation so far, for dealing with these two leaders, has been to ‘knock their heads together’.

If the general election is held tomorrow, both DAP and PAS will prevail stronger than ever in Peninsular Malaysia and pull up PKR by its bootstraps as in 2008. If Hindraf, the Orang Asli and the Christians don’t come around to Pakatan, they will be part of the pro-Pakatan third force along with those in Peninsular Malaysia who reject being in BN and Pakatan.

Over in Sabah and Sarawak, Najib’s so-called “fixed deposit” states, BN will never be able to repeat its performance in 2008. The tsunami of that year in Peninsular Malaysia will make a delayed debut in Malaysian Borneo.

It has been conceded by analysts that six–covering the recent 12 seats won by the DAP–to 10 parliamentary seats in Sarawak will fall to the opposition, both Pakatan and the third force. The BN can also expect to lose a further six–Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Beluran, Tenom and Pensiangan–to 10 parliamentary seats in Sabah to the combined opposition.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that Najib is screaming himself hoarse on Malay unity instead of calling for the general election to secure his own mandate.


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