Corrected on 27 March 2009 at 3.20pm
HOW will we know if Umno is really going to keep its promise to reform?
Quite simply, really. Similar to how we would measure a friend or partner’s sincerity, all it requires for us to make an educated guess about Umno’s reforms is to watch what the party is saying and doing. Indeed, in order for Umno members and non-members to trust that Umno will reform, as leader upon leader has avowed will happen, the party must not just speak the right words. It must also match action to those words.
Alas, on at least a few occasions over the past few days, Umno has clearly demonstrated it is failing in both areas.
(Corrected) Sickening media
The irony was not lost on the media on the night of 24 March 2009 when Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Razak called on the party to not “regard the new media as our enemy.” In opening the Wanita, Youth and Puteri assemblies, the incoming party president asked the wings’ delegates to understand the importance and power of the new media.
But this was a bit too much to swallow, especially since the party leadership had already decided to bar six online news sites from covering the nation’s most important political party assembly. And if Najib’s exhortation needed anymore dissonance from what the party really thinks and does, just hours before Najib’s speech, these six online media were called “irresponsible” and (corrected) “sickening” in their reporting.
Those remarks were made by no less than Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who decided that the new media should not be allowed to cover the Umno general assembly.
What is striking to me, though, is how disparate Tengku Adnan’s judgement was compared with that of upcoming Umno leaders who have agreed to grant interviews to the new media. In the case of The Nut Graph, for example, both Youth chief aspirants Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir agreed to do interviews with us because they assessed that we were fair and responsible.
One interviewee described us as “friendly”, while the aide of another sent me the following SMS after I had requested for an interview with his boss: “He had said ok. Your ‘small website’ is classy, credible, devoted to accuracy.”
Indeed, newly-elected Umno Youth chief Khairy himself has since openly disagreed with the party leadership’s decision.
The Nut Graph also managed to secure interviews with other Umno leaders, including Suraya Yaacob, Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad and Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, because we have demonstrated that we will be responsible and accountable in our reporting as evidenced by the standards in our editorial policy.
Indeed, no Umno politician we have reported on has complained about our reports being unfair and irresponsible, what more (corrected) sickening.
(From left) Shahrir Samad, Nazri Aziz, Khairy Jamaluddin, Mukhriz Mahathir
Incapable of change
What does Umno’s barring of six online media from the party’s general assembly demonstrate to us? It tells us that the party is disconnected from the new political and media landscape and from the views of its own leaders.
More critically, it shows that Umno isn’t really willing to or capable of change. This is especially since the party organs of both PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat were suspended on the cusp of the Umno assembly and the upcoming by-elections by yet another Umno stalwart, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
To be fair, prime-minister-in-waiting Najib may not have been aware of his party’s actions in barring the online media from the Umno assembly. According to one highly placed source, Najib’s office apparently did not know about the decision.
But by the early afternoon of 24 March, he must have been personally informed; and even if he hadn’t, both the local and foreign media had already started reporting on it.
Will Najib reverse the decision to bar the online media? At this point, it’s clear it won’t happen. Indeed, Najib could have asked for the decision to be reversed really quickly on 24 March itself, and he didn’t. And that would only nail the point home: Umno may be capable of calling for reform but when it really matters, it cannot and will not match action to words.
One other indication, for me, that Umno is unlikely to succeed in its much-needed reforms is the kind of feudalism apparent in the relationships of power within the party.
It is so revealing that then deputy president aspirant Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin today speaks the same language of deference and kow-towing towards Najib as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did towards Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad more than 10 years ago. And that same rhetoric is amply echoed by Najib himself in describing his qualifications for ascending to the party and government’s No. 1 position.
How can an organisation change, and change drastically — because that’s what Umno needs in order to keep relevant — if it is still the same kind of intelligence that drives its leadership today compared with a decade ago?
In Daniel Goleman’s book Working with Emotional Intelligence, he talks about the emotional intelligence utilised by successful people and organisations.
One such intelligence is accurate self-assessment. Among the skills involved in this intelligence is the ability to be open to candid feedback and new perspectives. Another emotional intelligence Goleman cites is self-confidence, which manifests itself in people who have the courage to speak up and “go out on a limb for what is right.”
There are others, but I am struck by how lacking Umno’s leadership is in these two intelligences. This cannot bode well for the party. As Goleman points out, citing numerous reliable studies conducted in the US, more than anything else, it is emotional intelligence that determines how successful an individual or organisation is in the long run. This is especially more so during the often stressful times of crisis and change.
The majority of Malaysians, including I, are not members of Umno. But our destinies in this country are directly linked to what Umno does or doesn’t do for so long as it is the dominant party in government. For a long time after the general election of 8 March 2008, many of us waited with bated breath for signs that Umno would reform. Unfortunately, we have only been offered the same-old.
Jacqueline Ann Surin is not placing her bets on Umno’s reforms or on Umno. She is convinced change can only happen when the party’s leadership acts in tandem with the rhetoric and promise of reform.