Victory for Umno or the beginning of an end for BN?

Khoo Kay Peng

Khoo Kay Peng, The Ant Daily

It would be both foolish and naïve for Umno and its supporters to claim an early victory for the red-shirt rally on Malaysia Day. If any, the impact of the demonstration has brought more negative implications to both the party and Barisan Nasional.

Firstly, the rally’s main objectives that were communicated through a mixture of intimidation, unreasonable demands, crude language and racist rhetoric are going to push the middle ground away and not winning them over.

During the rally, Umno’s henchman Ali Rustam had made an obvious contradiction. He said that Najib Razak is a prime minister for all races but the latter needed a Malay-centric rally to come to his defense. Najib’s open support for the ‘red shirts’ has compromised his credibility and rubbished the claim that he is a prime minister for all.

The fact that Najib needed the rally to offer him a shield against his critics is disappointing. By hiding behind the ‘dignity’ of his race, he has only contributed to growing doubts against his leadership. He is taking a huge risk because not all Malays are convinced that the criticisms against him are racially motivated.

His banker brother, Nazir Razak, has made a valid point and told the government to provide answers and to sue the critics if the allegations against the 1MDB are untrue. Najib didn’t do both despite several promises and threats.

Moreover, he had taken multifarious actions to silence his critics in the Cabinet, remove the Attorney General, transfer the Special Branch number two to his department, muzzle the 1MDB special task force and derail the Public Action Committee’s investigation. These actions have added to his woes of suspected wrongdoings.

Second, the likes of Jamal Yunos, Ali Tinju, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Azalina Othman, Ali Rustam and others acting as spokesmen for the administration are putting Najib’s government in deeper distrust.

The perception is Najib has responded to his critics, the Bersih 4.0 demonstrators, through the red-shirt rally. Using these characters to fend off his critics is doing him more harm than good.

The larger question is where are his Cabinet members and what are they doing to help him solve the crisis? With legitimate answers and policy interventions not forthcoming to deal with the 1MDB fiasco, have they abandoned Najib by merely acting subservient to his leadership but allowing the flame to slowly burn Najib’s fingers?

By sacking Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal, Najib may have quashed a possible mutiny but there is no guarantee that it gets him unity and full support from his Cabinet too. It is obvious who are really standing up for him and who are keeping quiet and striking a distance.

The murmur inside his party is getting dizzily louder and worrying. A number of Umno leaders have been critical of the red shirt group and their racist antics.

Third, the louder the ultra-Malay voices are getting the BN coalition closer to its eventual demise. The red-shirt rally is very polarizing.

Najib may yet be its strongest symbol because the group’s main purpose is to defend his leadership regardless of the confidence crisis in his leadership. If Najib fails to heed his brother’s advice, his continuous dependence on the red shirts is going to systematically weaken BN as a multiracial coalition.

If MCA, Gerakan and MIC, the core founders of BN, are going to be punished in the polls for a third time these parties are going to descend into another round of fatal infighting. Leadership tussle has already torn both MIC and MCA apart. Continuous rejection by the electorate due to their association with Umnp is going to bring an end to BN if the current faux pas continues.

Fourth, it is disastrous for the government to continue to support the red shirts. The government must start to address the issues properly. Bank Negara’s chief Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz has called for accountability in the 1MDB investigations. She said that besides global external headwinds, domestic issues such as 1MDB had also affected the ringgit.

Her statement is loud and clear, bad press internationally has affected investors’ confidence in the local currency. Nearly RM17 billion of capital flight in the last 12 months did not happen by chance. It speaks volume of the government’s gross negligence of the economy and the mismanagement of 1MDB.

Finally, the biggest loser in the red shirt rally is the Malay community. Besides being spokesmen to the government the red shirt leaders also claim to represent the Malay community. For outsiders, the Malay community has been inaccurately and unfairly portrayed as hostile, easily provoked, nepotistic and willing to condone corruption as long as their racial rights are not being threatened.

The inherent failure of Najib’s leadership to correct the mistakes and economic mess he had helped to create is putting a strain on the legacy of Malay political families especially Tun Razak’s. If Najib fails badly and resulted in the rejection of Umno/BN by even a simple majority of the electorates, the party’s dependence on the elites from these families may be questioned.

Umno may be put on a microscope and when the view is clearer the party may not be so immune to scandals and crises after all. Hence, it is wise for the party to resist its temptation to celebrate the red-shirt victory too early.

Khoo Kay Peng is a political analyst and management consultant.