January 18, 2012
On UMNO,the Malays and the Future of Politics
by Christopher Fernandez@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com
UMNO, the acronym for United Malays National Organisation, despite being in existence for decades, has failed miserably to unite Malays under its banner. Therefore, it should perhaps re-define UMNO as Uniting Malays Not Over.
All was well upon the inception of UMNO by Jaafar Onn and the fight against the British that led to Merdeka. UMNO was also well under Tunku Abdul Rahman’s leadership. But the changes that led to UMNO losing favour with the Malay populace can be traced back to as early as the 70s.
UMNO has since then become a fractious and divisive organisation which even led to its de-registration and the setting up of a new UMNO during the era of the Mahathir administration. But the fact that a Malay organisation, claiming to represent the bulk of the Malay population, does not even have a Malay equivalent in naming itself speaks of the muddled politics the party has been engaging in until now.
Aside from the fact that UMNO uses an English expression in describing itself, it is ironic that it doesn’t see the need to emphasise the importance of the English language among Malays, but personally most UMNO leaders seem to favour an English education only for their children.
While for the largely Malay masses, UMNO champions and stresses the use of the Malay language – that it is a unifying language and therefore must be safeguarded to guarantee the future of the Malays – yet, in reality, the children of UMNO leaders are generally packed off overseas to obtain the best possible education in the English language.
It is primarily this and other forms of double standard practised by UMNO leaders that have caused Malays to seek political affinity with PKR and PAS. While the Malays usually tend to hold on to traditional values and value the role of UMNO in Malaysia, they now view the party as having strayed from the basis of which it was formulated.
While Malays value very much the contribution of UMNO to their well-being, this is now a thing of the past, as the loss of interest in UMNO now is due to the self-seeking attitudes of most UMNO leaders and members.
Malays no longer see UMNO as a party that champions the struggle of the Malays. In the new millennium, Malays have begun to realise that the winds of change have taken place at UMNO, especially since the departure of Mahathir in 2003.
While during the tenure of the Mahathir regime the rot had started to set in, the wily politician was able to still appease and appeal to the Malays. But the unity among the Malays started to crumble with the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as Deputy Prime Minister (in 1998) and the subsequent establishment of PKR.
Enter PAS which began to capitalise on the disappointment of the Malays with UMNO and seized the opportunity to make gains, even presenting itself as a viable option to non-Malays. The interest in these two parties caught on among the Malays and led to the political tsunami that almost ousted the ruling Barisan Nasional from power in March, 2008.
In realising that Malay grassroots support has shifted to PKR and PAS, UMNO tried to restore confidence among Malays by removing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and hoped that the replacement Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, will be able to gain greater favour with the large Malay voter base.
While urban Malays seem to be the bulk of UMNO supporters today, the party is in a precarious position and has so far found no way to unite Malays under its umbrella. UMNO’s loss of grassroots Malay support has been gradually absorbed by PKR and PAS.
As it stands, Malays as a race are more fragmented and, politically, their allegiance is currently skewered three-ways among PAS, PKR and UMNO. The reality of Malays being divided and being ruled by a tripartite leadership does not augur well for UMNO, but is again welcome news for PKR and PAS.
The Najib-led UMNO has striven hard to become the preferred political party of choice for Malays. But in doing so, the initiatives used and employed have made Malays even more wary and suspicious of the overtures made by UMNO.
While it is conceded that UMNO still has a large membership base, the steady numbers of Malays who are beginning to see a better future by hedging with PKR and PAS is becoming apparent. Even DAP has been holding the olive branch to Malays and making progress in recruiting Malay members.
What has gone wrong with UMNO, once holding formidable sway over the Malay population of Malaysia? The steady rise of income disparity is the root cause of Malay disenchantment as they see only pockets of Malays emerging super rich cronies of UMNO.
Elite Malay group
This creation of an elite Malay grouping spawned by UMNO and the great schism it has created with the rest of the Malays have become glaring. The fact that while the economy grew, and while even the other major races fared better, Malays largely feel they have been betrayed by UMNO for not spreading the wealth equitably over a wider base of the Malay population.
This grievance has caused the once-favoured UMNO to no longer be the champion of the Malay struggle. The gauntlet seems to have fallen on PKR and PAS to restore parity and the equitable distribution of wealth.
This dichotomy between creed and deed, this lack of evidence that UMNO is sincere but displays the façade that it cares for the well-being of Malays is really a feeble attempt by UMNO to secure the support of the Malay base.
But Malays have become quietly smarter and wiser and are aware of the bag of tricks of UMNO politicians and need no direction or guidance as to what their role should be in seeing a better Malaysia. In the 13th general election, it should not come as a surprise to most people (except maybe UMNO) that the actual transformation is the Malays themselves showing the exit door to UMNO.
When that happens, perhaps UMNO’s slogan of “Dulu, Kini & Selamanya” (Before, Now and Forever) should be changed to “Dulu, Kini & Tak Lama Lagi” (Before, Now and Not for long).
Christopher Fernandez has been teaching and writing throughout Asia since 1984.