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Shadow over Umno

Khairy Jamaluddin celebrates his victory (All pics courtesy of theSun)

AFTER more than two hours and three recounts, Umno Youth’s new chief was finally confirmed at 11.30pm on 25 March, 2009. Khairy Jamaluddin, with 304 votes, beat rivals Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir (232 votes) and Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo (254 votes) in a closely-fought contest at the wing’s general assembly today.

The long wait saw observers at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC)’s main floor getting restless. Rumours had placed Khairy, who was deputy to outgoing chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, and Mukhriz running head to head.

Rival camps, trying to occupy the time, tried to drown each other out with rowdy chanting. One impatient supporter, fed up, shouted “Let Khairy win already!”

The situation after the Umno Youth results were announced was very tense. Rival supporters outside Dewan Tun Hussein Onn were chanting “KJ rasuah, KJ penipu!”

Police were called in to calm the crowd, and they formed a human chain to separate supporters and prevent any violence.

The scuffle is indicative of a problem that shadows Khairy’s win. On 17 March, the Umno disciplinary committee found him guilty of breaching the party’s code of ethics, due to alleged money politics. Although they then let him off with a warning, it is an allegation that casts doubt on his commitment to the party’s official crusade against internal corruption.

Khairy’s victory may also be read as a willingness for the party’s Youth wing to return to Malay ultra-nationalism.

During the day’s debate session, Umno Youth information chief Azimi Daim began measuredly, saying that it was necessary for the wing to assist the party in regaining grassroots appeal. “We must become the voice that is seen as representing the cause of the people, and not that of sycophants,” Azimi said.

Vitriol seemed directed at the opposition. Outgoing chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier styled opposition leader (and former Umno member) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a Malay Malaysian traitor. He kissed the keris, but lust for Chinese Malaysian blood was not discussed. Umno’s enemy was opposition politicians, not other races.

However, with Permatang Pauh delegate Mohd Zaidi Mohd Said, the rhetoric turned overtly racial. Asking “If Umno cannot defend Ketuanan Melayu, then who will?”, Mohd Zaidi urged the party to lift its suspension of former Bukit Bendera division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail.

Women vote for change

Shahrizat (left) and Rafidah

Results for the Umno Wanita polls were announced much earlier, around 9.15pm. Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil won a landslide victory, ousting Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, who had previously led the movement for 22 years.

This outcome may be read as a sea-change for Wanita, signalling a shift from Rafidah’s paternalistic reign to the softer touch of Shahrizat, who is widely perceived to be more willing to lead by consensus.

And, by electing the former Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Wanita may be signalling its displeasure at Rafidah’s earlier call to stick to politics.

“We musn’t be occupied with women issues and neglect politics. Don’t forget that we have already lost in five states,” Rafidah had said in her keynote address this morning at the Wanita Umno general assembly.

However, in debating the Rafidah speech, Bagan Serai Wanita chief Asmah Ramli proposed that 30% of ministerial and deputy ministerial posts be allocated to women. She also complained that there were too few women in government, despite the fact that the women’s wing was Umno’s largest.

Pak Lah’s candidates

Najib (left) seated next to Pak Lah

However, some see Shahrizat’s win as a potential stumbling block for Umno. She has been perceived as a favourite of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Now, with Khairy’s victory, there is an apparent resurgence of Abdullah-aligned individuals within Umno’s new leadership. Khairy is the son-in-law of the outgoing prime minister.

The past year has seen Umno trying to distance itself from Abdullah, who had been blamed for Barisan Nasional’s setbacks during the 12th general election of March 2008. Now, the effectiveness of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s incoming administration in instituting rejuvenation, and breaking with the weaknesses of the past, is called into question.

With money politics casting a pall over the Umno Youth election results, and the party wing’s preference for vehement racial rhetoric, hope of renewal for one of Umno’s important components seems crushed.

And, while Wanita delegates seem willing to risk a new direction for their wing, Shahrizat’s win may further impede Umno’s ability as a whole to gather itself for overall fortification. The fate of Umno is still very much an open question.

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6 Responses to “Shadow over Umno”

  1. Andrew I says:

    If it is perceived that Malaysians do not have the option of NOT choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, then I would say the results are more than we could have hoped for.

    In American terms, this would translate to a President and Congress from opposing sides of the political divide.

    Some checks and balances are definitely better than none.

    A big thank you to Pak Lah for showing that some change is possible, and that he hasn’t abandoned us altogether.

  2. Din says:

    What is the insinuation behind the writer’s purpose of typing “Malay (Malaysian)”? To help Umno seem more racist than they really are?

  3. amir says:

    I think because the word he used was “petualang bangsa” and bangsa can be defined as both “race” (which is common) and “nation” (as in “Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu”).

  4. Kenny says:

    “Khairy’s victory may also be read as a willingness for the party’s Youth wing to return to Malay ultra-nationalism.”

    Not true. Khairy was the most moderate and progressive of the three candidates for Umno Youth chief although he has to act like an ultra at times. But do you prefer a fake ultra to a real ultra like Khir Toyo or Mukhriz?

  5. Hi Din,

    The parentheses were a result of a human error in the newsroom. It wasn’t meant to insinuate anything although your question is a legitimate one.

    According to The Nut Graph’s housestyle, we add “Malaysian” to references of Malays, Indians, Chinese, Kadazans, Others etc. That stems from our belief that we are all Malaysians first and that we shouldn’t let the artificial constructs of race divide us as a nation.

    However, when it’s a live quote that we are inserting the word “Malaysian” into, we add the parentheses to show that the editors added a word that wasn’t actually uttered by the person we were quoting.

    In this particular story, there shouldn’t have been parentheses because it wasn’t a live quote we were tweaking. However, the parentheses were inadvertently added because it was really late when we worked on the story last night and we were all tired and hence weren’t too attentive about the copy we published.

    We noted the parentheses this morning and have had an internal discussion about it to clarify the matter and make sure we don’t repeat the error.

    Thanks for raising it.

    Jacqueline Ann Surin
    The Nut Graph

  6. Din says:

    Jacqueline: Thank you for the clear response. It feels much more appropriate now – I agree, and applaud the policy. Politicians in particular should use “Malaysian” instead of using words along racial lines.

    If this addendum “(Malaysian)” is continued (and I think it should – it’s a good idea), and since this is the internet, can you make it a hyperlink to a page which explains this, so more people can adopt the use of Malaysian when referring to citizens of Malaysia regardless of race?

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