How do you solve a problem like Tajuddin?

It’s one thing for the party to peddle new policies and claim it’s changed, it’s another thing entirely to undergo an actual transformation from within and prove it.

(FMT) – It should have been a watershed moment for Malaysia’s women. After a decade of delays and excuses, the Sexual Harassment Bill was finally tabled and passed.

And yet, all anyone can talk about is a man: Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.

A quick recap for anyone who missed the circus. First, in what felt like his bi-annual Dewan Rakyat tirade, he lashed out at “rude” DAP MPs for bringing up sexist remarks he and other parliamentarians had made in the past.

Then, if fellow MPs are to be believed, he hurled a slur – one that most would consider sexist, mind you – at nobody in particular. Hopefully, even he can see the irony.

I’m not here to write about him being disrespectful or shameful. The rest of the country has already said it more than enough times on social media. Fact is, this is hardly the first time Tajuddin has acted out in public (remember his ‘kissing trains’ remark?) and serves as yet another reminder of why he has continued to behave this way.

Despite numerous calls from MPs for Tajuddin to be reprimanded for his alleged comment, no action has been taken, a sadly expected outcome. One would think that cursing at fellow elected representatives in clear view of the people they are supposed to represent would warrant some kind of punishment, but that hasn’t been the case.

Unusual, given that our Speaker and his deputies appear happy to banish some MPs who raise their voices but will sit idly by while others like Tajuddin throw tantrums. Who wouldn’t feel emboldened by such a feeling of immunity?

The lack of accountability on display is striking, particularly given the nature of the incident. It wasn’t a comment that could have been taken out of context or made by a slip of the tongue, it was an intentional and pointed insult flung at fellow elected representatives in a fit of frustration.

So where does the accountability come from? How about the unlikeliest of sources, Umno, the party that has backed him for years despite his growing list of missteps?

Since the last election, Umno has tried to position itself as a progressive-ish party, a bold step given the success the party has had with largely conservative policies. From opening its party polls to grassroots members, to offering equal allocations for opposition assemblymen, Umno has taken it upon itself to champion many of the ideas first put forth by its opponents.

It’s no exception that the MoU signed by Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government with the opposition was laden with policy promises that would have surprised even the party’s staunchest critics, such as the anti-hopping law and prime ministerial term limits.

Umno knows that if it doesn’t change as a party it will be left behind as today’s youth become the electorate of tomorrow, a population that lacks any connection with the party’s “glory years” and one that only remembers the scandals and corruption.

Beyond just the youth, the party faces an electorate as fickle as ever, one willing to punish non-performance regardless of who is in power. State polls have shown as much. Voters have been swift to act against governments that fail to live up to pre-election promises, and the major parties are all keenly aware of it.

Tajuddin’s continued prominence within Umno jeopardises all the work put into transforming itself and its image. One bad apple might not spoil the bunch, but it would certainly make most people reach for a different bunch.

For as long as it continues to support him, Umno’s efforts will appear superficial, a charade to distract us while business continues as usual behind the curtain.

It also threatens Umno’s long-term continuity and momentum. The party has been on a winning streak since its shock loss in 2018 and is hoping to ride that into the next general election. More bad press for a prominent member only distracts from its goals, and public perception is a powerful thing.

If Umno wants to shed its reputation as a party run by ageing warlords and prove that it is capable of the change it says it has undergone since being humbled in 2018, it needs an injection of youth from within, and that simply can’t happen for as long as it associates itself with youth-repellant figures.

Tajuddin’s unceremonious removal from the party’s Supreme Council suggests that Umno could already be moving on from the Pasir Salak MP, but that isn’t enough. With a general election on the horizon, Umno will soon be forced to decide whether he has earned the right to face the people.

Tajuddin is a popular figure in his constituency having won the seat convincingly every time he’s contested. Letting him stand for a fourth time would net Umno an easy win, but is that worth the damage he does to their reputation?

This all raises the question: what about the other warlords? Umno’s leadership lineup is filled with the same faces we’ve seen for decades, the same figures the country rejected in 2018.

It’s one thing for the party to peddle new policies and claim it’s changed, it’s another thing entirely to undergo an actual transformation from within and prove it.

Tajuddin has made decision-making about his future easy, but there are plenty of more difficult personnel decisions the party must make. An overhaul of its most outward-facing figures is the natural – if uncomfortable – next step. Whether Umno is willing to cull party stalwarts remains to be seen; making sure they step aside gracefully is a challenge unto itself.

However, it’s a process the party needs to go through if it’s to stand any chance of winning over younger voters. At some point, the party will need to decide between propping up its favourite members and winning elections.

The status quo may have taken it this far, but that won’t be the case forever. There will come a time when all attachment to the growth and development that the party spearheaded is gone, and all that anyone will remember are the public gaffes and court cases.