One man, one vote

Among the matters to be decided at the special Umno assembly in October will be whether some 60,000 members at the divisional level, as opposed to 2,500 delegates, or all Umno's three million members will be given the right to elect party leaders.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

I have been writing about this matter for more than ten years. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has also been saying the same thing. Umno has to change. There are of course many changes needed in Umno. But the most crucial change of all is Umno needs to implement the ‘one man, one vote’ system.

Some may argue that what happens in Umno is an internal matter of the party. Non-Umno members should not interfere in Umno’s internal matters. That may be so for most issues. But not the issue of how it chooses its president. This is because Umno is not just choosing its president. Umno is also choosing the Prime Minister of Malaysia. He who becomes the Umno president invariably becomes the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

The issue of how Umno chooses its president is therefore not just the business of Umno. It does not concern just the three million Umno members. It concerns 27.7 million Malaysians, almost 25 million who are not Umno members.

Currently, only 191 Malays decide who becomes the Umno president. So 191 Malays also decide who rules over 27.7 million Malaysians. This is not democracy. This is power being concentrated in the hands of a very few. This is worse than colonialism. This is worse than having a Monarchy system. This is even worse than having the army ruling over Malaysia. Only 191 Malays decide the fate of all of us.

As the present system goes, 20,000 Umno branches hold their annual meetings. These 20,000 branches then elect their delegates to the division meetings. Once all the 20,000 branches complete their annual meetings, the 191 division meetings are held.

At these 191 division meetings they choose their 2,500 delegates to the annual general assembly. They also nominate the candidates for the positions of president, deputy president, the three vice presidents and whatnot. The names nominated are those who the 191 division heads want.

If any member tries to nominate names outside this list, his or her nomination is blocked. Sometimes these ‘wayward’ members are even prevented from attending the division meetings so that no ‘outsiders’ can get nominated.

In other words, the 191 division meetings are ‘controlled’. Members not toeing the line are ‘locked out’ of the meeting. Names not ‘approved’ are blocked. Members have sometimes been served bankruptcy notices at midnight, just a few hours before the division meeting, to ensure they are disqualified from attending the meeting.

Rest assured democracy is not practiced at these division meetings. Only those whom the 191 division heads want to get nominated are nominated. No challengers will be allowed. Those nominated for the positions of president, deputy president, the three vice presidents and whatnot will be decided by these 191 Malays and woe to those who try to upset the equation.

The Umno party election is a farce. The three million Umno members have no say in who become the top national leaders. The 20,000 branches also do not have a say. The 191 divisions are no less excluded from the process. Only the 191 division heads have the power to decide on the top national leadership. This means only 191 Malays decide who becomes the prime minister of 27.7 million Malaysians.

So this is not about Umno. It is not an internal party matter of Umno. It is a matter than concerns all of us, 27.7 million Malaysians.


Persuading grassroots to accept changes
Zubaidah Abu Bakar, New Straits Times

In an attempt to forestall money politics by devolving party elections to the divisional level, Umno is facing objections among its grassroots, observes Zubaidah Abu Bakar

UMNO is about to tread a new path that should reduce, if not eliminate, money politics in internal elections.

The party's top leaders are ready to institute drastic reforms; they have understood the need to change, with an electorate tired of corruption. But the Umno ground appears yet to be convinced.

The party's grassroots may be an obstacle to such change. Urgency is lacking on the ground. Is this an indication that the grassroots do not realise that voters have changed?

When Umno's Bukit Mertajam division rejected the proposed amendments to the party constitution at its annual meeting last week, party watchers were not surprised. The division in Pakatan Rakyat-controlled Penang is known to be vocal, and it was not out of the ordinary for Bukit Mertajam chief Senator Datuk Musa Sheikh Fadzir to table a motion to reject the proposed amendments.

Musa said the amendments were being done in a hurried manner, and divisions should be given more detailed explanations as well as time to consider them.

This from the man who appalled the Umno general assembly earlier this year when he spoke against the party taking measures to curb money politics — and at a time when the party was resounding with calls to address the malaise that had plagued it for decades.

But Musa was not alone — there were delegates who nodded in agreement when he argued that the party was making a mistake in trying to curtail money politics, as this would show that Umno leaders were "ungrateful" to the members.

"Without money, how can the delegates come to Kuala Lumpur to attend the assembly?" Musa had asked. "Please look at where they are staying, some of them are sharing a room with seven or eight people."

When the 173 delegates from 38 branches in Musa's division unanimously rejected the amendments, which also included allowing more members to have a say in the election of supreme council members rather than limiting that say to some 2,500 delegates as at present, members of other divisions quietly agreed.

Some divisions that held their meetings also did not discuss the amendments, despite receiving notices explaining the draft proposals from the special committee on the Umno constitutional amendments.

The secretary of one division in Kelantan had glanced at the letter and left it at the division's office without revealing its contents to the division committee, dismissing it as just "one of those circulars".

He only took a second look after being alerted to the importance of the amendments by a committee member who had learned about the matter from colleagues from another state.

However, there are also divisions that have set up special committees to study the proposals.

Among the matters to be decided at the special Umno assembly in October will be whether some 60,000 members at the divisional level, as opposed to 2,500 delegates, or all Umno's three million members will be given the right to elect party leaders.

The aim, as party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak emphasises, is to ensure Umno will be more democratic and clean as a party that empowers its members to elect their leaders.

Umno wants to ensure it has an election system capable of shutting out money politics and other unhealthy activities. It wants leaders elected to party posts to be clean and acceptable to the people.

There are serious doubts among Malaysians over the Umno disciplinary board's determination to tackle money politics, while allegations of selective prosecution abound.

The opposition's allegations of corrupt practices in Umno cannot be brushed aside; they are Umno's enemy and will harp on corruption issues until the nation goes to the next general election.

Voters in the last general election showed they loathe corruption and will now reject candidates who are corrupt or perceived to be corrupt.

The Malays now are no longer exclusively for Umno, as evident in the loads of young people who turned up at the anti-ISA rally early this month — the Malays who participated in the anti-government march were either supporters of Pas, another Malay-based party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, a Malay-based party with a multi-ethnic platform, or apolitical.

As Umno cannot afford to lose the Malay ground, it has become inevitable for the party to consider radical steps to revitalise itself. With members' support, the party could rebound as it did after being declared illegal in 1988. Many took the court's ruling then as a sure sign of Umno's eventual demise, but that did not happen.

Umno leaders are now committed to tightening the party's election process. This has to be done if it is to woo runaways back to the fold and gain new support among young Malays. Giving more members the right to choose their top leadership would recognise that the real power in the party is at the grassroots.

It will also have a direct bearing on the nation as, by convention, the president and deputy president of Umno are also Malaysia's prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively. – 14 August 2009