December 28, 2018
Melayu Baru: How to keep Bersatu from turning into UMNO 2.0
“ A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned. Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.“–Nat Tan’s BIG IF And Harapan ( Hope)
COMMENT | Today, Bersatu kicks off its first AGM as a ruling party. All eyes are on the party, as it looks to define its heart and soul.
The question many ask is as simple as it is pressing: Will Bersatu turn into UMNO 2.0?
Today’s article will look at some of the main indicators that will help us answer this question – corruption, feudal patronage, and the role of race.
It is easy to accuse Bersatu of having UMNO DNA, since the vast majority of them do have past UMNO associations.
The fact of the matter is, a great number of Harapan politicians have UMNO origins, all the way up to Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad themselves.
If that alone was a disqualifying clause or cause for cynicism, then we might as well give up before we begin.
As time has shown however, one ex -UMNO individual is not necessarily the same as another.The question of mega-corruption might be the easiest to answer.
We are too close to the 1MDB disaster, and under a Prime Mnister whose allergy towards such massive fraud runs too deep, for us to see a quick return to corruption on that massive scale.
No doubt there will be elements drawn to Bersatu who want a return to those UMNO-style ‘good old days’, but one assumes that the majority of the original membership of Bersatu joined at least in part because they could not stomach the levels of corruption that UMNO saw under its former President Najib Abdul Razak.
The question of grassroots-level corruption, however, may be a little harder to face.
Feudal patronage and warlordism
I have written at length about the politics of feudal patronage, which was the predominant UMNO grassroots model.
Here, the idea was that if you buttered up ( ampu) your local UMNO warlord, he would be responsible for funneling all sorts of government money your way.
If you did your part for the UMNO machine, then you were given a seat on the gravy train; if not, then you were excluded, forced to sit out on the sidelines.
This simple arrangement kept local UMNO warlords secure in power for decades.
It is those same warlords today who are probably most eager to jump ship and join a party that is in power, so that they can get back to their shenanigans.
If Bersatu is genuinely interested in reforms, and seeks a true departure from UMNO’s business as usual, it is probably here that they must make the biggest departure from the old culture of politics.
Under UMNO, the idea of party membership was just another facet of feudal patronage. You joined the party to demonstrate your loyalty, and to ensure the party’s victory in elections, so that the gravy train can chug along.
Bersatu has a chance now to redefine what supporting a political cause means. Instead of focusing solely on membership drives, the time has come to make the idea of membership more meaningful – quality over quantity.
Here, we might even learn from parties like PAS and PSM, whose members have a true sense of shared identity and shared purpose. Their ideological anchor gives them a type of strength that is not as apparent as in parties like PKR or DAP.
Will Super-Det Seize The Moment?
This is Bersatu’s opportunity to catapult Malay hood into the 21st century – first by ejecting the feudal Malay mindset, and then by launching the Malays of into a future where they are genuinely globally competitive.
Seize the opportunity to banish the culture of handouts, and replace it with a culture of genuine empowerment (pemberdayaan) and independence.
If Bersatu can make the ideological foundation and drive of their party this idea of fostering genuine Malay competitiveness – the elusive goal Mahathir has always obsessed about – rather than UMNOo’s pork barrel approach to politics, then they will have successfully carved themselves a true ideological niche that differentiates them from UMNO.
Race and exclusivity
Last is the thorny question of race.
As argued in my last article, we will not face the UMNO of GE-14 in GE-15, and we no longer need to dance to their racist, divisive tune.
Some may even feel that the one-race-one-party approach of BN actually worked, and want to maintain the formula. I think this will result in electoral disaster.
As a non-Malay myself, I think the balanced approach here is to not feel a need to rush Bersatu into opening up to other races.
That said, what may be important at this point is for a party like Bersatu not to paint itself into a corner.
Whatever its short-term needs are, perhaps Bersatu can achieve some sort of balance by making sure that nothing it does closes the door or burns any bridges regarding what the racial composition of the party might be in the future.
Ultimately, I think global trends suggest that a less racial approach to politics has the best long-term potential.
Also, staying mon-ethnic means that those who want to drive a wedge between PKR and Bersatu will always have a convenient ideological reason to do so.
So, Bersatu can focus on what it needs to for now, but hopefully, we will see them being as open minded about the future as possible.
Melayu Baru for a Malaysia Baru
A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned.
Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.
With some luck, Bersatu will emerge from their AGM with a clearer vision of how to make this happen.
As the party of the Prime Minister, it would also be good if they can map out a strategy in which some sort of sustainable political ecosystem can be encouraged.
This includes finding the right ideological and conceptual formula for what will keep Pakatan Harapan together, and creating the right conditions for an effective opposition to play its role.
The bogeyman of UMNO is nothing like it once was, and we shouldn’t let the fears of the past tie us down. Let us instead take up the courage of the youth, and be mindful that fortune favours the bold – because there is now an entire new Malaysia to define and make our own.
NATHANIEL TAN is winding down for the year, and looking forward to 2019. He has been thinking a lot about a blueprint for a New Malaysia.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.