The genesis of one 1 Malaysia

Realising this fact, Najib will have to convince his fellow party leaders and the rank-and-file that Umno has to abandon the controversial yet low-yield mantra of Malay supremacy that has been the hallmark of Umno in the past decade or two.

Muaz Omar, The Malaysian Insider

The 1 Malaysia concept coined by newly minted Prime Minister Datuk Sri Najib Razak has been received with mixed response by political leaders and public alike.

The approving nods were mainly from non-Umno component parties within Barisan Nasional while the national Umno leaders and grassroot displayed some degree of uneasiness among.

There was however a sense of deja vu in this latest episode of “new leader, new concept”.

When former PM Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced his Islam Hadhari, the main intention was to capture the imagination of the Malay-Muslims; to lure the conservatives away from PAS as well as the liberals away from PKR.

Even though Tun Abdullah had the right credentials when talking about Islam, he underestimated the undercurrents among the Malay-Muslim community against the establishment.

And when such a concept involved religion, the wave of discontent were amplified even more to the extent that the ridicule insinuated Islam Hadhari to a new religion.

As the movement against the concept gained momentum, the issue was used as a potent weapon to annihilate the former PM.

As the new PM, Najib felt the need to push through some concept that would suit his image –  that of an elitist and pseudo-liberal.

Hence, a concept that does not have a time limit or clear milestone, and an end product that remains vague, is something that Najib hopes would be able to buy him time while establishing his form of administration.

On one hand, the 1 Malaysia concept may be a masterstroke that could recapture the middle ground or bring Middle Malaysians back towards the Umno-BN fold.

This is because Najib and only a handful of Umno leaders realise that they cannot be appealing to the Malay voters only, as the general election 2008 and the numerous by-elections have shown that generally the liberal Malays and non-Malays in the Peninsular overwhelmingly rejected Umno and BN.

Due to the demographics of electoral constituencies, there are a high proportion of mixed seats, relative to high majority Malay or high majority non-Malay seats.

Hence, any party that appeals or capture this huge market would gain the upper hand in Malaysian politics.

This is also why PKR is called the party of the future due to its make-up and appeal to this “mixed” group.

This is also one of the main reasons that PKR is the biggest opposition party in parliament despite having a smaller membership base and limited resources as well as a stuttering party machinery.

Realising this fact, Najib will have to convince his fellow party leaders and the rank-and-file that Umno has to abandon the controversial yet low-yield mantra of Malay supremacy that has been the hallmark of Umno in the past decade or two.

Whether Najib has the political will to carry out this very ambitious but yet necessary strategic positioning is yet to be seen.

However, the early indications are that Najib is not afraid of taking risks in issuing public pronouncements and policies that appear to do away with the protectionist policies of the past. The announcement of liberalisation of part of the services sector as well as financial and banking sectors are some examples.

These announcements have been received with anguish and cynicism among the grassroots Umno leaders, who expect a hard time to convince the Malay community that the party will not abandon the Malay Agenda. An Umno without the Malay Agenda is akin to an Umno devoid of its soul.

If this “project” is undertaken decisively, it could either make or break Umno – it can become a party that disintegrates rapidly into oblivion or a party that is awakes and rises strong from its deathbed.

On the other hand, it is up to the people to accept this experiment or reject it.

This is because Umno in the past two decades has never had a tradition of being a moderate and inclusive party, and its wanting to change is not something that its leaders or supporters believe in wholeheartedly.

In fact, some go to the extent of accusing the new change in heart of the party in adopting slogans and ideas that has been championed by the opposition as being motivated by the desire of remaining in power.

There is no intellectual property rights on political slogans and ideas and, hence, it is perfectly legal for Umno or BN to imitate or hijack ideas of the Pakatan Rakyat to ensure that it extends its own expiry date.

Pakatan can claim the moral high ground even though that may not assure they will win elections.

The people will, however, demand that Najib deliver on its promises, as they will demand  Pakatan deliver on theirs.

The time of public pronouncements and political promises without delivery ended on March 8, 2008.

The people have established and instutionalised an audit trail and place great importance on the bottom line and outcomes – and expectations are high.

Najib has began his premiership with the right moves. However, as his new slogan reads “Performance Now” it is only appropriate that he and his new cabinet members do just that  – perform, now!

Muaz Omar is a consultant with a regional stakeholders management firm based in Kuala Lumpur.