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Tug-of-war in Umno


Muhyiddin Yassin (pic courtesy of theSun)
IF the Umno general assembly debates of the past two days are any indication, there is a grave disconnect between what the party leadership is publicly indicating change to be, and what the party grassroots themselves feel.

Talking to the press this afternoon, newly-minted Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin continued the talk of reform he espoused before party polls.

“We want to address all the pertinent issues post-2008 general elections to meet the demands of a multiracial society,” Muhyiddin said. And, since Muhyiddin will also be deputy prime minister, his talk about Umno’s need to reclaim “political and psychological ground” may be extended to encompass the entire Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Since the 12th general election, the BN’s stranglehold on Malaysian politics has waned considerably.

Implicit in this admission of renewal is an acknowledgement of the party’s need to shift towards a more centrist position in the Malaysian discourse, and ability to practice a more inclusive brand of politics. This would mean a consolidation of the BN coalition, which party leaders such as Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin now admit is in shambles.


In his opening address, Najib (left) suggested that the Umno constitution be reviewed (pic courtesy of theSun)

The new Umno leadership seems to support concrete internal reform, such as the suggestion in new president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s opening address that the Umno constitution be reviewed with regards to the quota system. The suggestion was to ensure the selection of Umno leaders will be more inclusive.

By giving votes to more Umno members, the party polls’ reliance on delegates will decline. This would be a strong step to reducing the incidence of “intense lobbying”, — an euphemism for money politics, as observed by the likes of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

Citing developments such as Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s election as vice-president, Muhyiddin styled Umno delegates as being mature. “This is a strong representation and reflects that our delegates are adopting a Malaysian outlook instead of confining to their respective regions,” he said.

Challenging Umno’s political will

With a line-up that is favourable to Najib, observers think that the new Umno will be able to make some good changes. This is, of course, provided that Umno actually has the political will to do so.

However, speeches made at the Umno general assembly today demonstrate that this may be unlikely.

Debates on the motion of thanks for the presidential policy speech, motion on economy, and the motion on education and religion have been the general assembly’s main agenda from last night and throughout today, 27 March 2009, in the Merdeka Hall of the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).

The addresses, delivered by representatives from various states and the party wings, saw delegates urging the party for consolidation. Umno Puteri representative Mazlina Mohammad Lazim said that “If Umno doesn’t help Umno itself, how can it help others?” Such a statement might appear to represent a call towards introspection.

But it was really a call for more free gifts. Mazlina said that the government must ensure Umno loyalists are given positions in government-linked companies (GLCs). The day before, Penang representative Musa Sheikh Fadzir echoed this, saying that Umno division chiefs should be appointed to GLCs.

Musa also called for the dissolution of Umno’s disciplinary board, as the action taken against some leaders convicted of money politics had caused internal strife. Further, the board’s investigations had brought bad press to the party. It was shameful, Musa believed, for the party to have been so shamed in public.

“We should deal with the question of money politics amongst ourselves,” Musa told delegates. “No need to talk about it in the papers!”

Defending racial superiority

The speeches also resisted inclusiveness. Today, Selangor representative Datuk Ismail Tijo played up the need to defend the racial supremacy of Malay Malaysians, saying that some quarters were willing to “insult the Malays, as if we have no dignity”.

“And then there is Anwar Ibrahim, [who] wants to put us on the same level as other races,” Ismail said, taking a dig at opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s overtly multi-cultural rhetoric. “If we are not careful, this country will be the next Palestine,” Ismail asserted.

“We have to go to Selangor and take back Selangor!” Ismail added, alluding to the state, which is currently under PR rule.

Surely this would be a bad move for Umno, considering the public relations disaster its take-over of the state of Perak has since become?

The speeches showed that reform for Umno, to its delegates, meant that the party had to become even less transparent and practise more patronage.

In other words, the party appears to be far from cognisant of the reasons behind past failings. It appears unwilling to transform itself, despite what Umno’s new leaders seem to want to believe.

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6 Responses to “Tug-of-war in Umno”

  1. tangkup says:

    Umno has been in power for the last 50 years. It’s difficult to adopt changes. It’s like the leopard which cannot change its spots. This is basically due to the same people on top, who have been there for over two decades. How to change? The good taste of power the last 50 years cannot be abandoned. Already evidenced by the rhetorics in debating the presidential speech. Some are already extreme. The only notable suggestion is the “Malaysian race” made by Wanita Umno.
    God bless Malaysia

  2. Antares says:

    With the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu in October 2006 [and the lingering concerns about links to certain facets within Umno], the party went beyond the point of no return. It cannot be redeemed until it has been reduced to being the Opposition… and from then on it will have no more reason to exist. So Umno’s redemption can only take the form of complete extinction.

  3. Abdul 'Afuw says:

    So, by saying that Malays are equal to other races, [it is considered] an insult to the Malays and saying they have no dignity? And other races are supposed to feel real dignified by this?

  4. Din Haron says:

    What change, when Umno division chiefs are now fighting to be positioned in GLCs. These are all personal gains.They are not debating about the future of the rakyat as a whole. Instead, their future is most important.Tell me Umno leaders,what ‘change’ are you talking about?.

  5. orang kampung says:

    Umno has been plagued by cancer for the past 20 years. Unless major surgery is used to cut off the malignant tumors it would not survive in the next GE.

    The speeches made at the Umno general assembly on the last day have already showed that the metastasis has spread. If noting is done to stop this rot, it would spell the death of Umno.

  6. Mr. Right says:

    Selangor representative Datuk Ismail Tijo should be charged for promoting racial apartheid or creating tension between the races in Malaysia.

    He said: “And then there is Anwar Ibrahim, [who] wants to put us on the same level as other races.”

    May I ask Ismail:

    1) What is wrong about putting all Malaysians on the same level?
    2) Is Ismail (is he representing Umno when he says this) trying to say other races in Malaysia are on a lower level than Malays?
    3) Is Ismail trying to play racial politics (did he get permission from Najib to play racial politics?)
    4) Is Ismail Tijo a supporter of “white supremacy”, therefore he is trying to create “Malay supremacy” in Malaysia?

    Ismail should be charged under the ISA for making racist remarks. If Umno wants to win back the heart of other races in Malaysia, Ismail has to be kicked out of Umno. Period.

    It is a shame for Ismail to hold a Datukship. The sultan should take back his Datukship.


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