DATUK Seri Najib Razak‘s assertion over the weekend that only “one or two Umno leaders” have made racist comments and that they do not represent the party’s views belies belief.
Umno’s top leaders have in fact publicly and repeatedly championed the Malay agenda over the legitimate interests of other Malaysians. In some instances, intimidation and fear have even been used in their rhetoric to uphold “Malay rights”.
Hence, Najib’s exhortation for Malaysians to ignore and forget the racism that Umno is capable of is problematic, to say the least.
Not just a few
It was at the opening of the Gerakan national delegates conference on 1 Nov 2009 that the prime minister reportedly said that people should not pay too much attention to the one or two party leaders who make racist remarks. He added that every party had such leaders. Najib, who is also Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairperson, urged people to instead look at Umno’s policies from “Day One”, saying they have “always been fair, inclusive, democratic and open”.
Hishammuddin (pic courtesy of theSun)
But in attempting to paint a rosy picture of an inclusive and representative Umno, Najib appears to be conveniently forgetting the words of many of his party colleagues, including those from his own cabinet. Or perhaps, the prime minister wants us to forget.
Again and again, Umno leaders have berated and chided those who are seen to question Malay rights and supremacy. When Najib says we are to ignore the “one or two” leaders who have made racist comments, whom exactly does he mean?
Could Najib be referring to his cousin Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who gained infamy for his keris-wielding tactics during the 2006 and 2007 Umno general assembly as the then Umno Youth chief? Perhaps he was referring to Hishammuddin‘s statement that it would be better for component party leaders who advocated kepimpinan Melayu instead of ketuanan Melayu to join the opposition? Or maybe Hishammuddin’s attempted defence of the Shah Alam cow-head protesters?
Perhaps Najib was referring to Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman who objected to the use of the term “bangsa Malaysia” because it was “rojak” and not acceptable. The Johor Menteri Besar said that if the term were to be used, it must only be applied in the context of all the peoples of Malaysia “with the Malays as the pivotal race.”
Or was Najib referring to former Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar who warned non-Malay Malaysians not to question the concept of ketuanan Melayu and that it was “not a joke to be fooled around with”?
What about the Umno leaders who lambasted former Umno colleague Datuk Zaid Ibrahim for being “offensive” for his November 2008 speech that the concept of ketuanan Melayu had failed? Could Najib be referring to them? Indeed, there seems to be more than just “one or two” leaders who would not hesitate to play the racial superiority card in their political games.
Ahmad Ismail (source: Oriental Daily), against a map of
Malaya (public domain. Source: wikipedia.org)
Or maybe Najib’s definition of “racist comments” only encompasses those who make extreme comments such as former Bukit Bendera Umno chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail who described certain non-Malay Malaysians as “pendatang” in November 2008?
Najib said at the Gerakan national delegates conference that Umno was “willing to change” and would “hear the voice of Malaysia”. Will leaders who have previously made racist comments, or who make racist comments in the future, then also be changed?
Indeed, what would be more compelling than merely denying Umno’s racism and telling people to ignore “one or two leaders” would be if Najib acknowledged his party’s racism. And then vowed that the party would no longer put up with any leader, no matter if it’s just one, ten or a hundred, who made racist remarks.
It is also impossible to portray Umno as an inclusive and non-racist party while newspapers such as Utusan Malaysia, which is Umno-controlled, continue to publish articles with titles like Bangkitlah Melayu — Bersatu hadapi tuntutan kaum lain yang makin keterlaluan and Melayu jangan jadi bacul.
The Malay-language newspaper has published several scare-mongering editorials stating that the political dominance of Malay Malaysians was receding due to the “extreme” demands of other races.
“Apa yang dikehendaki oleh orang Cina, India dan PAS ketika ini ialah kuasa politik dan pentadbiran yang lebih besar. Bukannya keadilan dan demokrasi. Maka kerana itu, kuasa politik Melayu yang dipegang oleh Umno sejak merdeka mestilah dihapuskan. Ini boleh dicapai apabila PAS dan Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim menyokong DAP,” began the editorial entitled Melayu jangan jadi bacul by Noor Azam on 4 Aug 2009.
“Orang Melayu perlu bangkit dan bersatu dalam berhadapan dengan tuntutan kaum lain yang kini dilihat semakin keterlaluan,” stated the 15 April 2009 Bangkitlah Melayu article.
Utusan Malaysia has also become a mouthpiece for Umno politicians. In the Bangkitlah Melayu article, it quoted Member of Parliament Datuk Mohamad Aziz, from Umno, as saying that the ruling party does not have to worry about making any decision that benefits Malay Malaysians.
Branding or real transformation?
Umno trying to rebrand itself?It is insufficient for Najib to advise people merely to disregard any racist remarks made by his party members. If he is serious about changing Umno, then disciplinary actions should be instituted against members and leaders who make statements that do not reflect the party’s “fair” and “inclusive” policies.
It would seem that Najib and some other leaders are trying to rebrand Umno. In his maiden speech as Umno Youth chief at the 60th Umno general assembly in October 2009, Khairy Jamaluddin called for ketuanan Melayu to be ditched in favour of kepimpinan Melayu. Najib’s remarks at Gerakan also seem to suggest that Umno is trying to rebrand itself as a party for all Malaysians and not just Malays. Whether or not this will merely be a cosmetic rebranding or a genuine appeal to the grassroots for change remains to be seen.
Umno leaders have consistently championed the Malay agenda and to change tack after years of insisting on ketuanan Melayu will require more than an assertion on their president’s part that the party is, in truth, an inclusive one.
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