Consensus that change must come from Umno

By Adib Zalkapli (The Malaysian Insider)

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — An unexpected by-product of Barisan Nasional's defeat in the Kuala Terengganu by-election is the renewed opportunity for the ruling coalition to transform itself at its special convention scheduled for next month.

The convention is aimed at assessing the behemoth's decline since the March 8 general election, which saw BN lose its traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority and go on a downward spiral since.

In short, it is a chance for component party leaders to take a long, hard look at themselves and reform the ruling coalition.

But despite a second straight by-election loss, and this time in a Malay heartland seat at that, there is very little sign of any impetus for change in BN.

In the hotly-contested Kuala Terengganu by-election, Umno lost due to the swing in Malay votes despite repeated attempts by Umno campaigners to show its rival Pas had sold out to the minorities to appease other Pakatan Rakyat parties.

The loss of Malay support in Kuala Terengganu has led many to believe that Umno would be forced to abandon its exclusive approach but political observers and component party leaders remained sceptical that the defeat would shape the convention into assisting BN in rejuvenating itself ahead of the next general election.

"As long as Umno is seen as the backbone by other component parties, who see themselves as followers in the coalition, nothing will change. Not only Umno leaders must change, other BN parties must also change," said Dr Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The political scientist said that component parties are not willing to speak out against Umno for fear of being seen to have a similar position as the Chinese-majority DAP.

"But the non-Malay parties are also at their weakest position now. They will not push for change, they expect it to happen naturally when Najib (Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Razak) takes over," he told The Malaysian Insider.

"They realise the need for change so there will be political rhetoric, but what needs to be changed will not be elaborated at the convention," said Agus.

He added that any drastic change would only mean weakening Umno's position in Malaysian politics, citing the use of government machinery in any election campaign.

"That is Umno's strength, awarding projects, mock cheques. If they want to stop that, what is left of Umno?" asked Agus.

Gerakan Youth chief Lim Si Pin also expressed similar views, saying that the convention was unlikely to solve problems plaguing Umno and BN.

"Nothing much has changed, there could be more rhetoric and no action plan, which we need to move forward in the next four to five years," Lim told The Malaysian Insider.

Since the last general election, Gerakan, a multi-racial, Chinese-majority party, has been speaking out against Umno's approach which it blamed for BN's disastrous performance in the last general election.

But Lim said that repeatedly pressuring Umno to tone down its stand on Malay supremacy would not cause the Malay nationalist party to change its approach.

"We can only say so much, but change must come from within the party itself," said Lim.

Simpang Renggam MP Liang Teck Meng is still hoping that the convention would help in setting the BN direction especially after the defeat in Kuala Terengganu, but said going against Umno would not solve the problems.

"We hope that Umno's leadership realise the actual problems; we have spoken against many things, now is the time for us look at our errors and solve the problems," said Liang, who is one of the two Gerakan MPs.