Better the devil one knows

By Din Merican and edited by Raja Petra Kamarudin

A proud Malay is naturally offended by the snide and damning remarks made about his own kind or about Umno, which is perceived as championing the Malay cause and which, according to the (rewritten) history books, fought for our country’s Independence from Britain. However, in this day and age where the Internet offers an avenue of unbridled speech, this is difficult to prevent from happening. Malaysians at large can no longer remain silent after suffering too many years of Malay, Umno-led, Barisan Nasional (BN) ‘misrule’.

The proposal to extend the New Economic Policy (NEP) is thus raising lots of eyebrows. The delicate issue of the NEP must be dealt with in a rational and transparent manner, at least between Umno and its coalition partners in the BN. Once there is internal consensus within the BN coalition, a new policy can then be formulated and ‘sold’ to the nation.

Let lessons from past be used to improve policy execution. Umno must take the lead again. And by saying ‘lead’ here, it in no way means Umno’s whim must prevail, imposed by using sledgehammer and bulldozer tactics to push through its own agenda against a muzzled BN.

But can it?

According to California-based political analyst Dr. Bakri Musa, Umno is corrupt to the core. But then, whether we like it or not, with 3.5 million members as claimed, Umno is representative of the Malays. Umno is also very well funded and organised and it controls our country’s resources.

In the entire scheme of things, non-Umno Malays do not matter. Yet Umno is able to play on their insecurities and religiosity through the inculcation of nilai-nilai Islam (Islamic values).

Raja Petra Kamarudin, who operates a popular website, recently wrote that keADILan does not know where it is heading. In the beginning, its principal motivation was to free Anwar Ibrahim from incarceration. But now that Anwar is out of jail, what is next for this lethargic party? It cannot even manage its merger with Parti Rakyat Malaysia as recent events have shown. It is more preoccupied with internal bickering and inter-party feuding rather than strategising on how to take on Umno, which should actually be its main focus.

Will Anwar Ibrahim be able to give keADILan a second wind — or at least give it a hard kick on its sorry behind to wake them up from their slumber? Or is he waiting for the right moment to return to Umno and reform it from within?

It remains to be seen what he will do, but we should get a clear indication in the coming years, if not months. But one thing we can be certain of: and that is Anwar is a born and charismatic politician. He will not stay on the sidelines for too long. There is ‘coffee shop’ talk that Khairy Jamaluddin might be working to rehabilitate the former Deputy Prime Minister to forestall Najib’s moves to succeed Badawi.

A Royal Pardon in the cards, maybe?

The ‘new’ PAS under a more ‘liberal’ leadership is certainly not an option since it has yet to publicly abandon its quest for an Islamic state (the basis of its existence and support from conservative elements in Malay society). Furthermore, PAS is not attractive to the non-Muslims who cannot trust these new Mullahs in lounge suits. Many also feel that Political Islam has been misused, and abused, and will not serve PAS well in the future.

We are therefore left with a Hobson’s choice of Umno and the Barisan Nasional. Umno is currently the only major political force in our country. As long as it claims to be fighting for Malay rights, it will have its share of support from the Malay community. That is why we are seeing them championing the extension of the NEP. Otherwise, Umno tidak ada modal politik lagi (no more political capital).

This view is shared by many analysts.

For all the criticisms piled upon Umno Youth Deputy Leader Khairy Jamaluddin, one must concede that he is right in pushing the new Malay Agenda. If this issue is well-staged and gains the support of the country, Khairy will most likely emerge as the leader of new Umno Malays, a man to watch so to speak.

Self-examination, as suggested by Dr. Bakri Musa, is a good start, but it will be only a ‘mirage’ since Umno’s leaders will not change. Fighting for the Malay cause gives them the right to our country’s largesse. If not, how can we explain why the NEP is a ‘failure’ after 35 years? Perjuangan kita belum selesai (Our struggle is not over). That perjuangan is for the status quo.

Change can be realised only when Umno Malays decide ‘enough is enough’ and start to reform the Umno system of politics from within. Unfortunately, ordinary members of Umno have no means of doing this, as grassroots politics is still controlled by division and branch leaders who are subservient to the pucuk pimpinan (top leadership) via a system of patronage. Feudalistic practices are still very much ingrained in Umno.

Professor AB Shamsul of the National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia-UKM) has written an outstanding book on this subject titled From British to Bumiputra Rule.

It is these division and branch leaders (2,500 out of 3.5 million members), the delegates to the annual party convention, who elect party leaders and members of the Umno Supreme Council. By the way, there is an embargo on contests for the posts of President and Deputy President. It is therefore very difficult to be optimistic that reform, apart from cosmetic changes, is possible.

Our present man, Badawi, at the helm of Umno, is a product of the system. He was raised in the Umno tradition, starting with his Grandfather and Father, and is loyal to the system. That loyalty enabled him to become Umno President and the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia. Badawi may not be a brilliant administrator and decision-maker, but he is surely a very good politician and a smart operator. We are perhaps not seeing him for what he really is — yes, he is one of them. So let us not be taken in by Badawi’s pronouncements.

There are plenty of Osu Sukams, Isa Samads, Mat Tysons, Musa Amans, Khir Toyos, and Rafidah Azizs in Umno. In order to survive and prosper in Umno, one must be part of the system and embrace its entrenched culture. And we know it is difficult to effect a change of culture.

So, if the whole Umno culture is tainted, then its leadership will certainly be tainted as well. Until and unless a new alternative emerges, the Malays have no choice but to rely on Umno as is.

Inilah nasib Bangsa Melayu (this is destiny of the Malay race).