September 10, 2018
UMNO’s Stagnant Pool, Contaminated Bottom Feeders and the Malay Psyche
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
The occasion of the recent launch of the book, Anatomy of an Electoral Tsunami jointly written with Terence Netto and Cmdr S. Thayaparan provided questions and issues which should be of interest to a larger public.
According to the Guest of Honor, Tawfik Ismail, the defeat of UMNO in GE-14 was because the party had become a stagnant pond of water breeding only bottom feeder fish.
In his speech which he subsequently elaborated to the media, he described UMNO as having no inlet and no outlet. “In such a pond, fish which are of beauty cannot survive, all that can survive are the bottom feeders.”
Tawfik argued that UMNO, founded in 1946, ended in 1988 during the political crisis when the High Court ruled that UMNO was an illegal party.
“It (UMNO) had actually died in 1988, it was killed off. So ….we need to keep that in mind when we talk about why the tsunami changed things,” he said in reference to the recent election.
Since then he noted that by voting in the old guard as leaders during the recent party elections, the same mentality was still at work. “At the moment UMNO is directionless. They don’t have any ideology or new ideas that attract young people. They are feeding on themselves. They are a self-supporting group.”
He said the party remained the same post GE-14, was still filled with bottom feeders and [they] have not changed their approach to politics.
“The garbage that’s coming out doesn’t inspire much confidence in the species which is now the Opposition,” he commented, “with race and religion still being harped on”.
Can UMNO Escape from the Stagnant Pool?
Tawfik is no ordinary UMNO member or leader. As noted in my speech thanking him for gracing the launch, he is the son of a great Malaysian, Tun Dr. Ismail who played a key role in our early nation building. He was also a former parliamentarian in the Sungai Benut constituency in Johor from 1986-90.
I pointed out that Tawfik himself in his own way has tried to shape UMNO and Malaysia for the better. An advocate for a secular, open and multi-racial Malaysia, he belongs to that small group (perhaps generation is a better term) of UMNO leaders who could have brought a different leadership and change to the party and nation.
Can a similar group of moderate, secular and more multi-racially oriented UMNO leaders emerge to lead the party to regain the trust and respect of Malaysians? Can UMNO escape from the noxious and fetid pool it is trapped in?
Tawfik provided no answers or clue to this poser during his presentation.
UMNO’s Role in the Creation of the Malay Psyche
I had no knowledge of what Tawfik would speak on at the launch. Neither did he have any inkling as to what I would be touching on in my presentation.
But as it turned out, my prepared speech was a partial elaboration of Tawfik’s concerns with a slightly different tack.
In it I noted that high-level corruption and economic excesses and crimes are among the easiest of the improprieties and legacy of the BN regime that the PH government has to deal with.
More resistant to remedying are the policies, programmes and mindsets, which the country’s state apparatus and most institutions of Malay dominance in public and private sector life (educational, media, professional, socio-cultural organisations, religious bodies, etc) have propagated to a largely captive, and passive, audience.
As explained in a recent article by Fathol Zaman Bukhari, editor of Ipoh Echo:
“The Malay psyche is not something difficult to fathom. It is the result of years of indoctrination (brainwashing) by a political party that is long on hopes but short on ideas. Fear mongering is UMNO’s forte because the party believes that Malays are under threat. That their religion and their sultans are being assailed and belittled by imaginary goblins and make-believe enemies … Anyone other than a Malay and a Muslim is considered unworthy to assume any sensitive appointments, which are only reserved for Malays. But on hindsight, it is the Malays who have let the nation and their own kind down.”
In the introduction to the book, I had argued that “it is this less easily definable, less financially quantifiable, but more ubiquitous, and ruinous feature of nation-building directed and manipulated by the previous leadership for the last 60 years, which needs to be contended with and purged of its negative and toxic ethno-religious content if the new Malaysia is to have any chance of succeeding.”
Fathol Bukhari mentioned Najib and his UMNO clique as those who have let the Malays and the nation down.He was being politically correct and polite.
Lest we underestimate the magnitude of the reform challenge, let us not forget that most of the present crop of Pakatan’s leadership – Dr Mahathir, Anwar, Muhyiddin, Mukhriz, and others – have been among the supporters or leaders of the indoctrination movement in its diverse manifestation. They have been responsible for the Malay psyche, which needs transformation if the new Malaysia is not to remain a mirage.
Recently, Siti Kasim, the extraordinary lady who is a columnist with The Star and the sole reason I buy the paper on a Sunday put out this challenge to the Malay leaders.
Without a change from the religious-centric environment the Malay society is currently in, and an education system that indoctrinates rather than enhance critical thinking, Malay society will continually drift towards the insularity of religious conservatism and away from progressive capabilities to succeed in the modern world. And population demographic with UMNO DNA will ensure that a progressive Government will eventually lose out.
Therein lies the real Malay dilemma. Would any of the Malay leadership be willing to change its society from a religious centric one to one that is progressive and modern in character? Do you want our Malay society to continue to regress and be uncompetitive? Do you want it to drag the rest of us down the road of conservatism and economic ruin?
As Malay leaders, do you placate or do you lead for change? How do you lead that change? I am sure Malay leaders and many others in the community must be sharing the same concerns and asking the same questions that Siti, Fathol, Tawfik and others are pursuing.
Low Hanging Fruit of Change
Here is a suggestion I threw out to the audience at the launch.
Pluck the low hanging fruit of changing consciousness and transforming the Malay psyche. Use a strategy which does not need millions of dollars of consultancy funds, establishment of national councils that need 1 or 2 years to produce a report which is then seen as window dressing or put into cold storage.
As a start, I suggested that the writings of independent Malay intelligentsia and intellectuals – Pak Samad, Syed Hussein Alatas, Rustam A. Sani, Kassim Ahmad, Siti Kassim, Zaid Ibrahim, Syed Akhbar Ali, Din Merican, Prof Tajuddin Rasdi, Mariam Mokhtar, Marina Mahathir, Zainah Anwar, Farouk Peru, Hishamuddin Rais, A. B. Sulaiman, Azly Rahman, Bakri Musa, Hussein Abdul Hamid (Steadyaku47), Dr. Syed Husin Ali, Dr. Syed Farid Alatas and others – be compiled and widely disseminated.
As these writings are almost entirely in English, bring together an editorial group to translate to Bahasa Malaysia the selected articles and commentaries.
Print them in a bright and attractive magazine format – perhap 10 pages weekly – and leave this as a free handout where Malays and especially the youths congregate – 7-11’s, McDonalds, MRTs, LRTs, bus stations, university canteens, mosques and so on.
Also put them out in Bahasa, Tamil, Mandarin and other Malaysian languages in the social media.so that we can have a frank exchange and analysis of the Malay psyche – its positive and negative aspects as it pertains to nation building.
The second thing I would suggest is to take leaders of Malay political parties and NGOs, editorial writers and key staff from Malay media such as Utusan to the highways – Grand Saga, Lekas and Silk Highway in Selangor and elsewhere in other states – to spend time observing the phenomenon of Malay youth racing on the highways. I would also take them to drug addict haunts and other areas where Malay B40 and also where the Malaysian underclass live so that they are in touch with reality and can put their minds on how to deal with these social realities instead of engaging in diversionary or opportunistic rhetoric and politics.
But even these may be measures too difficult to implement in our race and religion obsessed nation.