ONE of the major themes in the Malay dailies between 30 Aug and 5 Sept 2008 was the fate of Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN) post-Permatang Pauh.
In a 31 Aug Utusan Malaysia article, BN Perlu Format Baru Tarik Orang Muda — Muhyiddin, Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin was reported to have said that the BN must reinvent itself to attract support from the younger generation in order to remain the party in power.
Muhyiddin said: “I take note of the recent general and by-election results, and there seems to be the view among [the younger generation] that they do not fully agree with or are not interested in the BN concept.”
In a news analysis by Nizam Yatim titled Berubah Demi Survival Politik in Utusan Malaysia on 2 Sept, Muhyiddin was again reported to have raised the issue of the BN’s reinvention.
The analysis noted that this is not the first time such an idea has been mooted. It quoted acting Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon as saying the “BN has been dominated by Umno, and other component parties have no say in fighting for the rights of the ethnic groups they represent. The phenomenon of having only one powerful party, that is Umno, in the BN has to be stopped to restore faith among the non-Malays.”
Nizam reported that some political analysts have indicated that the BN has to learn from the Pakatan Rakyat, which has “chosen to fight for the rights and for the good of all, irrespective of religion and race.”
“Such principles attract the interest of the young, including Malays born after Merdeka who are no longer interested in race-based struggles, but who prefer to be treated equally with other Malaysians.”
The Umno elections
Related to that, the upcoming Umno elections in December have brought to light the in-fighting among party members.
In a 4 Sept Utusan Malaysia article titled MT Perlu Bertindak Segera, Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim was quoted as saying that the supreme council needed to drastically intervene in members’ politicking, which could result in actions that will lead to the party’s demise.
The article cited the incidents in Kota Baru, where Umno branch head Datuk Azaha Abdul Rani was seriously injured in an acid attack; in Seremban, where the deputy chief of the branch, Mohd Noor Awang, was charged for bribery in attempting to get elected as the branch head; and in Bukit Semanggol, where Umno branch deputy head Taib Ali was shot dead by two men.
The meaning of a public holiday
The issue of 16 Sept — the date that Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader and now opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said the Pakatan Rakyat would take over federal government — was also prominently discussed.
Much column space was dedicated to the symbolism of the date, which is also Malaysia Day.
In a 4 Sept Utusan Malaysia article titled Cuti 16 September Hanya Muslihat Anwar, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Datuk Liew Vui Keong was quoted as saying that Anwar was “trying to attract the attention of people in both states (Sabah and Sarawak) by purposely making the date of Sabah and Sarawak’s entry into the Federation as his struggle’s agenda.”
A Sinar Harian opinion piece by Faizal Riduan titled Apakah Perlu Cuti 16 September? went beyond partisan politics by questioning the basis of Malaysian public holidays.
Faizal wrote that “this year alone, [Abdullah] has declared Thaipusam a holiday for the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, making it the sixth state after Selangor, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Johor.
“There are more religious days that should not be forgotten but are not given public holiday status such as Cap Goh Mei and the Mooncake Festival for Buddhists; Thaiponggol and Durga Puja for Hindus; Easter for Christians; Vaisaki for Sikhs; San Pedro Day for the Portuguese; and various other ethnic and religious days for people in Sabah and Sarawak.”
He concluded that holidays are only days, and what is more important is realising the value of the day being celebrated. “If not, even if the day has been declared a public holiday, it would still just be that: another holiday.”
On 3 Sept, an Utusan Malaysia article, Isunya 10 September, Bukan 16 September, by Zaini Hassan noted that Anwar was “more worried about [16 Sept] than 10 Sept, which is when the sodomy case against him would be mentioned. Is he trying to distract attention away from his own problem by throwing this curveball?”
Related to 16 Sept is the issue of political crossovers from the BN to Pakatan Rakyat. Accusations of shifting political allegiances were countered by denials and calls to sign declarations of loyalty.
Less prominently featured was the question of ethics. Utusan Malaysia published a report on 30 Aug titled Jangan Rampas Mandat Rakyat — PM, where Abdullah was quoted as saying that he “would not allow the people’s mandate to be wrested from the BN, which had won the recent general election by a majority in a valid and democratic manner.”
Dr Aisar Yee Abdullah, in a 3 Sept article titled Lompat Parti, Tidak Bermoral Atau Apa? in Sinar Harian, raised the “question of morality in party-hopping”.
He asked: “Is it still immoral to jump parties if there is no financial gain involved and such a move is made in the belief that it is to safeguard the country? The answer from those in power is ‘yes’ because it involves a betrayal of the vote given to them by the voters in the 12th general election.”
Dr Aisar argued that any move to quickly form a government makes the new government precarious. “Will there be common understanding between the parties that have formed government so that it does not easily waver, what more if it is composed of parties that have such differing political ideologies?
“The best option is for Pakatan Rakyat to give itself the chance to evolve into a government in the future. For the time being, it should suffice to be a force for effective change…
“The role it has played thus far has forced the BN government to be more sensitive to the people. One does not have to be the government to serve the people. 16 Sept is not everything.”