Umno vs Perkasa: A matter of interpretation

By Zainal Epi, Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: One is a long established political party which has become an institution for the Malays and the other is a newly-formed non-governmental organisation (NGO), also for the Malays.

The first one is manoeuvring cautiously so as not to lose its influence while the other is “rolling on like a tank”, mowing down whoever is in its path.

The first is Umno and the second Perkasa. Although different in outlook, both cannot deny that they share a similar objective – championing the cause of the Malays, that is, protecting their rights and privileges.

Both organisations are now “locking horns” in the race to win over the Malays as they eye the next general election.

For Umno, retaining its influence among the Malays is vital for its survival as other BN component parties are “virtually defunct” and can no longer to woo the other races.

Perkasa’s existence has in one way or another loosened Umno’s grip on the Malays and this is not good for the party.

Umno members are also members or supporters of Perkasa and they are vocal in defending Malay rights and privileges.

New challenge

Umno, formed before Independence with the sole objective of gaining Independence and championing and protecting the rights of the Malays, is now facing a new challenge.

Perkasa, formed in 2009 following the dismal performance of the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 2008 general election, is fast gaining popularity among the Malays who consider it as an ideal platform to voice their rights amidst renewed calls for a “free enterprise” business environment in the country.

The reason for Perkasa’s rising acceptance is simple: members of Perkasa claimed that Umno has lost its “sense of direction” as the Malay-based party is getting more moderate in its approaches.

This claim, depending on which side one is looking at, is debatable. As far as Umno is concerned, it is still the “Malay champion” but it takes a different approach to reflect the reality of the multi-racial background of the country.

A recent “verbal onslaught” by Umno and BN secretary-general, Tengku Adnan Mansor, against Perkasa had further strained the relationship between Umno — seeking or rather trying to sustain the trust and confidence of the Malays — and Perkasa — now considered the biggest Malay NGO — out to woo the disgruntled Malays to its banner.

Adding credibility to Perkasa is the direct support from former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is still respected and highly regarded as a statesman by the Malays and non-Malays alike.

Mahathir had commented that Umno could not do it alone in the coming general election as it needed to work together with NGOs or other Malay-based political parties.

Mahathir, though out of mainstream politics, is still very much in touch with the feelings and pulse of the Malay through his writings in his blog. Indeed, his statements at any functions have always being watched, deciphered, and interpreted with great interest by observers.

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