The problem with Umno


The trouble with Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is that he thinks he is serving the rakyat or voters. He forgot that it was his party that selected him to contest the election and it was his party that appointed him a deputy minister. Hence his loyalty is supposed to be to the party and not to the rakyat or voters.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

(The Malaysian Insider, 14 Oct 2012) – Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has denied that he has any problems in Umno, saying the issues he raises that appear to conflict with the party’s line are purely coincidental as they were based on current affairs.

(FMT, 30 Aug 2012) – As the government copes with accusations of political persecution on whistleblowers, Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah today gave his endorsement to an opposition initiative to encourage informants to expose power abuse.

(Malaysiakini, 11 Aug 2012) – Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah will rally BN parliamentarians against the recent Evidence Act amendments, he told a forum on the law in Kuala Lumpur today.

(Din Merican, 5 Jul 2012) – He insists that UMNO is a lot more inclusive and tolerant of diverse voices than people give it credit for, and cites himself as testament of that. Yet, he admits that at times, he finds himself alone among his colleagues, in advocating the progressive views that he holds.

(The Nut Graph, 6 Feb 2012) – His openness in engaging students has drawn fire from certain groups. Last year, a pro-establishment student group demanded that Saifuddin resign after a student protester momentarily lowered a flag bearing the Umno president’s image outside the party headquarters.


Those are but some of the ‘negative’ news reports regarding Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah. If you were to Google his name you will find pages and pages of items about him, all mostly about him taking the opposite stance to his party or the government.

And because of that he may not be selected to contest the coming general election. The fact that he has not been sacked or suspended yet is already a surprise. In the past, any Barisan Nasional leader or Minister who takes the opposite stance would suffer the wrath of his party.

Is this because Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is a bit more liberal or is it because he is weak and does not have the guts to come down hard on dissidents like his predecessors would have done? Even during the ‘weaker’ Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s era there was little tolerance for those who broke ranks or did not toe the party line.

Anyway, Saifuddin may soon discover the folly of his ways. Umno does not tolerate those who speak the same language as the opposition, especially if you are amongst the top leadership and a cabinet member. You cannot just argue that it is purely coincidental that you happen to sing the same tune as the opposition. You are supposed to know what the opposition is saying and then say the opposite to what the opposition says.

Was it not Nazri Aziz who said that the duty of a government Member of Parliament is to oppose anything and everything that the opposition Member of Parliament says?

Technically, if an opposition Member of Parliament were to stand up in Parliament and hold up a white piece of paper and declare, “This paper is white,” you are supposed to disagree with him or her and say, “No! That paper is black.” You cannot later give an excuse that you agreed that the paper is white because it really is white. Your job is to oppose what the opposition says even if what that person said is the truth.

This, Nazri made very clear.

The trouble with Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is that he thinks he is serving the rakyat or voters. He forgot that it was his party that selected him to contest the election and it was his party that appointed him a deputy minister. Hence his loyalty is supposed to be to the party and not to the rakyat or voters.

You cannot win the election on your party ticket and then demonstrate independence. That is the mark of a loose cannon. Loose cannons are those who break ranks, do not toe the party line, oppose the party stand, agree with the ‘other side’, and so on. You will be viewed as a traitor, a Trojan horse, a mole, a Benedict Arnold, a Brutus, etc. They will say you have been bought, have sold out, are planning to jump to the other side, and much more.

Barisan Nasional, in particular Umno, is very intolerant and very uncompromising with those who do not toe the party line. What you say may be true. Your cause may be noble. You may even be having the rakyat’s interest in mind. But that is not going to save you from the wrath of your party. The overriding factor would be whether what you say and do is complementary or uncomplimentary to the party. That will be the deciding factor.

Saifuddin, of course, will not be the first person to fall because he felt he was defending his principles. Others before him have suffered this same fate and many more after him will also suffer the same in time to come. Politics is not about principles. Politics is about attaining power. And how can you attain power if you do not close ranks and all sing the same tune?

If you are more concerned about the rakyat and about serving the rakyat then you should not be in politics. Politics is the wrong arena for all this. You should form an NGO or become an NGI (non-governmental individual) and fight outside the political arena. Then you can express your independent views without worrying about rubbing anyone the wrong way.

I can’t understand why people join Umno, or remain in Umno, and then say that they wish to represent the rakyat and speak up for the rakyat. Do they not know that the two are not compatible? It is like joining a gang of bank robbers with the excuse that you are trying to reduce crime. What a ridiculous excuse. How can the problem become the solution?

Saifuddin realises that you need to be the solution rather than the problem if you want to solve the problems facing Malaysia. Most people who talk about finding solutions into solving Malaysia’s problem are actually contributing to the problem. It is like what the Umno leaders said last week: Malaysian politics is too race and religion driven.

That is absolutely true. I, for one, will agree with this. In fact, I have been saying this myself for a long time. But for the Umno leaders to say this when Umno is the one doing all this sounds very weird. They are the problem. And they have the gall to speak about the problem as if someone else is the one guilty of this.

Many readers who posted comments in Malaysia Today were quite spot on when they said that the problem facing Malaysia is a problem regarding the mentality of society at large. And they have also correctly pointed out that the cause to all this is our education system. Hence we need to reform Malaysia’s education system and to do this we need a progressive and liberal education minister and deputy minister.

Hence, also, much of what Saifuddin says is very true. But then what Saifuddin says, although may be very true, is not in the interest of his party. So I doubt he would be allowed to continue to say the things he is saying. And that would mean his party might have to get rid of him and replace him with someone who is more compliant, obedient, and less of a loose cannon.

This would be good for Umno, no doubt, because then they would be able to control their people. But that will not be good for the country. We need to see a reformation of the education system. That is very, very crucial. And to see that we need a reform minded minister/deputy minister in charge. If we have someone who is more concerned about toeing the party line and serving his/her party’s interest, then Malaysia is doomed.

Umno is the problem. Yet it is offering itself as the solution. How can it be the solution when it cannot even tolerate a minister who is mildly independent? Yes, I would classify Saifuddin as mildly independent. He is not even 10% of what I would like him to be. He is not saying even 10% of what I am saying.

Najib and Umno have to understand one thing. If we want to see changes then we must respect freedom of expression and freedom of association. Malaysia’s current education system does not allow this. This has to change. And we need ministers and deputy ministers who dare call a spade a spade.

Saifuddin is almost there. He is not quite there yet. He is merely playing around the fringes and not even getting to the core yet. But even that Umno cannot tolerate. So how can we expect to see reforms?

Speak without fear or favour is an empty slogan. Umno says it, no doubt, just to impress us and to make us vote for them. But until they allow their own people to contradict the party, Umno has a long way to go to convince us that they are what the country needs.

My fear is that there will be too much pressure put on the party to drop Saifuddin. My other fear is that Saifuddin will be so vilified that he might just throw in the towel and leave Umno to join the opposition.

I do not want Saifuddin to resign and join the opposition. We need him in Umno. We need him in Umno and heading the education ministry so that he can push for reforms. We do not want yes-men in the government. That will only make things worse. We need people within Umno who are committed to reforms and who dare stand up to tell their party and their party leaders that what they are doing is wrong and what they should do to put things right.

I have always said this and I am going to say it again. It is no use preaching in the mosque, church or temple. Those people who go to the ‘House of God’ have already been ‘saved’. You need to tour the back lanes, alleys and brothels to reach out to the drug addicts and prostitutes. They are the ones who need saving, not those who go to the mosque, church or temple.

In that same spirit, it is no use having all the reform minded people in the opposition and the scumbags and slime-balls in Umno. We need some ‘saints’ in Umno as well so that they can try to ‘turn’ the ‘devils’ in Umno. Only then will we see changes in Malaysia.

And that is how I view Saifuddin — a saint walking amongst a bunch of devils trying to do ‘God’s work’.

My appeal to Najib is not only to retain Saifuddin but also to promote him to a full minister. And then give him a free hand to reform Malaysia’s education system. Then maybe, still maybe, we will be able to see changes in 20-30 years to come. Yes, even then it is going to take 20-30 years.

God help Malaysia because we certainly do need plenty of help.