War of words show Umno is badly in disarray

Maclean Patrick, Hornbill Unleashed

The prelude to the 13th General Election is clearly in full force as Umno gathers itself to hold its General Assembly in early December – seen as the final flag off for nationwide polls.

And one can bet the Umno assembly will be of torrid interest to all Malaysians, especially for the majority who are without physical access to the meeting. For the past 54 years, it is the Umno delegates attending the assembly who get to decide who will be the prime minister of Malaysia – with impunity.

By convention, the Umno president also becomes the prime minister of Malaysia and this is why the party has so fiercely fought off a two-party system, trying all ways and means to kill off the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

However, now that the opposition is already well ensconced in the Malaysian psyche, perhaps for the first time the Umno president will not be the prime minister of Malaysia any more. Why? Because the Umno-led BN coalition faces a real risk of losing power in the coming GE-13, which is why there is so much interest in this Umno assembly, where the mindset of the party chieftains and grassroots will play a large part in determining the immediate future of the country.

When the ‘minority rules’

Umno’s past stranglehold on power has always been a case of the minority super-ceding the majority, and contradictory to the stance of “majority rules”, which ironically is always touted by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad when justifying his Malay Supremacy politicking.

It is against such a setting that the latest comments by Mahathir Mohamad has caused such a stir. Not so much as to what was said but rather, that this is the truth that UMNO has refused to accept or address through the years since the 2008 elections. UMNO has chosen to surround itself within an imperialist bubble that has isolated its leaders from the reality on the ground.

This bubble is evident in the various policy decisions that have been announced, only to incite public outcry and then quickly retracted. Thus, to be told that UMNO is weak goes against the very nature of this imperialist bubble. This is why Mahathir’s words hit home squarely and painfully.

“Umno became badly damaged when Tun Abdullah Badawi took over. Because he prioritised his family and there were so many corruption allegations. And everyone knew about his son-in-law’s involvement,” Tun Mahathir said, referring to Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.

“This damaged Umno has been inherited by Datuk Seri Najib Razak for him to fix. Umno needs time before it can become stronger. “But Najib is busy and does not have enough time.”

PM in absentia

Indeed, Najib Razak has been busy. At a time when the nation needed its leader to address its woes and to provide a measure of understanding; he has been absent – relegating his duties to his underlings who have provided conflicting statements that have not done much good for the citizens of Malaysia.

So it was that instead of addressing Mahathir’s comments head on, Najib left it to his cousin and Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to rebut the grand old man of Umno, rather than take on the task himself and speak up for his own administration.

Hisham, also an Umno vice president, told reporters “this is not something unique to Umno. I do not deny that this will hamper our process… but we are going through a revision and transformation.”

The Home Minister tried to put a good face on it by saying it was not unusual for Mahathir to throw out challenges and ideas for the party ahead of a general assembly, and that members would need to rise to the occasion. Hisham also unwitting revealed one of the grouses Mahathir has with Najib – his cowardice in getting a mandate of his own rather than rely on the power he inherited after ousting predecessor Abdullah Badawi.

“This will answer a part of Tun (Mahathir’s) concerns,” said Hisham, insisting that Najib was already in the process of getting the party ready for the upcoming general election.

Najib has failed to arrest the slide in Umno

But Hishammuddin’s reply was as usual weak and in fact does not refute Mahathir’s comments. It merely confirms the latter’s assessment of Umno. The revision and transformation of Umno had been promised since the days of Abdullah Badawi, and further emphasized when Najib Razak assumed the premiership of Umno. Yet, three years down the road, Umno has not improved. Instead, it has regressed into a state of exclusiveness – branding itself as more ultra-Malay and no longer a progressive and moderate political party.

Factions and infighting within the party divisions contributed to Umno’s failure in the 2008 elections and it looks like more of the same in the coming GE-13. Mahathir was right in his assessment, Umno is in disarray and Umno has not acknowledged this.