Protests show Umno losing middle ground over Perkasa link, say analysts



Umno’s association with Perkasa could damage the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s effort to reclaim the middle ground, analysts said in the wake of radical outbursts from the country’s largest political party’s youth wing.

Political analyst Dr Shaharuddin Baharuddin said support from middle-class Malaysians, especially among the Chinese and Indian communities, was sliding further away from the ruling coalition as they see its anchor party’s ties with the non-governmental organisation as “inappropriate”.

“If you are only focusing on the ultra-Malay agenda, you definitely cannot go anywhere,” said the associate professor from Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Professor Jayum Jawan, who specialises in politics and government, attributed the erosion of support to Umno’s silence on Perkasa’s activities.

“Perkasa is not helping in the process of national reconciliation that PM Najib promised to bring about after 2013 general election,” the Universiti Putra Malaysia lecturer said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The second-term PM had mooted “national reconciliation” in the aftermath of the BN’s worst-ever electoral showing last year, which he had initially blamed on a “Chinese tsunami” for swinging the tide against the 13-party coalition.

In the months since, Najib has been edging forward at a painfully slow pace on his reconciliation efforts, which have been disrupted frequently by outbursts from groups like Perkasa that have been wading closer to the centre.

Chief executive officer of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Wan Saiful Wan Jan, said groups such as Perkasa promoted extreme, divisive messages, and urged the country’s largest political party to distance itself from such NGOs as they posed a real danger to Umno and by extension, the BN coalition.

“It is really damaging to Umno because these people are doing things, carrying the name of Umno. It is not only damaging to Umno but also BN as a whole including MCA and MIC.

“It is important for the survival of BN and Umno as a whole that they maintain civility that is a trademark of the Malays,” the think tank chief said.

Wan Saiful applauded Umno’s Penang state lawmaker Datuk Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain’s spunk for suggesting Umno reject Perkasa outright.

The Teluk Bahang assemblyman had cut into Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s wind-up speech at the state legislative assembly last week, which had been disrupted by protests from Umno Youth members from outside the lawmaking hall.

“I have seen many incidents happened when they are involved so it is best we steer away from them,” Shah Headan said.

But not all analysts believe Umno could be redeemed.

Monash University’s political scientist James Chin went a step further, saying the damage was already done.

“Umno is the main sponsor for Perkasa. There is no way it can detach itself from Perkasa,” Chin told The Malay Mail Online.

He observed that Perkasa was created to target a “certain segment of the society” that championed “Ketuanan Melayu” or Malay supremacy, while the prime minister was seen to pursue a separate strategy that embraced the minority groups, in particular the Chinese.

“That hasn’t changed but what has changed is that Umno is more right wing. That’s why we see the emergence of groups like Isma,” he said, referring to vocal Malay-Muslim activist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia by its acronym.

Chin added, “This is a no brainer that Umno is Perkasa and Perkasa is Umno.”