Identity politics – the final nail in the coffin for BN, UMNO’s ‘demise’

Jamari Mohtar, Astro Awani

Cracks pending a split, or as the Malay proverb goes, “retak menanti belah” – that seems to be the fate awaiting Barisan Nasional (BN), helmed by Umno, in the wake of a no-show from the other leaders of component parties when a BN supreme council meeting was called off abruptly on Monday evening.

This is an indication that the “cold war” is not just between Umno and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) but also extends to the other two component parties – the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).

But for now, the gun seems to be trained at MIC and MCA, judging by the remark made by a hawkish Umno Supreme Council member, Mohd Puad Zarkashi who warned both parties to chart their courses carefully and should not be “too anxious” in looking for new partners in the wake of the meeting being called off.

One may be forgiven in thinking the tiff is just between Umno and MIC seeing the barrage of war of words between the two since the recent annual general assembly of MIC early this month when Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was invited to give the keynote address.

This led to an accusation that MIC was moving towards supporting PN, which elicited a strong response from MIC president, Tan Sri SA Vigneswaran who said: “If inviting the prime minister to address the party assembly is construed as us (MIC) jumping to PN, then that is the most idiotic thing (to say).

“To be fair, we should invite him. He gave my deputy president a minister’s post without the recommendation of BN. That is the truth, unless someone can dispute it.”

Datuk Seri M Saravanan, MIC deputy president, is the Minister of Human Resources in the current cabinet, and his inclusion in the Cabinet was the sole decision of Muhyiddin who felt the small number of Indian MPs in parliament supporting PN must be roped in, into the Cabinet so that the interest and welfare of the Indian community is taken care of.

If a split ever occurred, this is the result of Umno’s undoing which reflects the ugly side of identity politics when MIC revealed for the first time that when BN decided to be part of the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government in March last year, it did not recommend to the prime minister a ministerial nominee from the MIC which should be an easy thing to do since the party has only one MP.

On the contrary, the only two MPs from the MCA were part of the Cabinet – a typical policy of divide and rule when identity politics becomes the modus operandi of a political party in making a decision, more so when the only MP from another component party, PBRS was made a deputy minister.

In fact, there was no BN meeting to decide on the ministerial position of BN. Umno as the leader of the pack simply decided for all. And its decision is simply based on identity politics – Umno as the party that represents the Malays must ensure that its politicians monopolise all cabinet nominees of BN, and to hell with the non-Malay component party like the MIC which has been its loyal coalition member for 55 years.

And to make matters worse, in response to MIC’s wait and see stance on breaking with PN, an Umno veteran retaliated by lashing out at MIC, dismissing the party’s presence in BN as being nothing more than an unnecessary burden, likening it to carrying a ‘dead monitor lizard’, and looking forward for the party to leave BN.

MIC, according to Vigneswaran is now a very mature party and would not follow others blindly. He lamented the fact after following BN for 55 years, now that when they opened their mouths to raise some questions, they were seen as disloyal.

“My conscience is very clear. I know I have not insulted anybody although my party has been insulted in so many ways over the years,” Vigneswaran added.

A week after Umno’s decision to sever ties with Bersatu, which helmed the PN coalition, MIC for now is taking the stance of supporting PN, pending the BN supreme council’s final decision. MCA is also taking the same position.

But with the existing bad blood between Umno and MIC, and apart from an admission by MIC that going into the 15th General Election (GE15) as an opposition is an unprecedented challenge, as its members have no such experience, one may just conclude that the party will finally leave BN is a forgone conclusion unless the Umno faction who wants good relationship with Bersatu and PAS prevails.

Things are getting dicey now with the latest news on the circulation of an audio recording of a phone conversation allegedly between PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in which the two were gloating over the latter’s opening and closing speeches at the Umno general assembly in getting the delegates to agree to Zahid’s proposal of a break with Bersatu by merely asking those who agreed to stand.

The alleged audio recording clearly shows Zahid conspiring with Anwar to undermine the PN government and was also circulated on the social media.

Arising from this, Umno’s Padang Rengas MP Nazri Abdul Aziz warned that BN will have a slim chance of winning GE15 if Zahid stays on as the Umno president and BN chairperson.

He also claimed that Zahid no longer commanded respect among BN component parties and called for Umno deputy president Mohamed Hasan to take over from Zahid.

What is interesting here is that Zahid’s own support base in Umno is turning against him, as Nazri comes under the faction that wants Umno to sever relations with Bersatu.

Already the call for him to move aside has already been made by the faction who wants Umno to retain good relation with Bersatu and PAS for the sake of the unity of the ummah.

The call for Zahid and the top leadership to relinquish their posts is getting louder.

On April 5, Simpang Renggam division chief Zakaria Dullah did this by saying this is so that Umno can remain relevant in the country’s political landscape and is the best way for Umno to clean up its “feudal warlords” image if it wants to change.

Jamari Mohtar is Director of Media & Communications at EMIR Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based upon rigorous research.