Why the Malays no longer need Umno
Umno was once an institution. Today, Umno is a struggling political party trying very hard to remain relevant. Keeping Umno around is like keeping that old sampan under your house on stilts to row across the river to attend school. Life is no longer like that. You need Umno like you need a leaky sampan under your house. And Umno must be made to realise that Malays are no longer uneducated and live in houses on stilts beside the river.
NO HOLDS BARRED
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Around 40 years or so ago, I interviewed a number of Malays who were born in the pre-war era and were around when Umno was first set up in 1946, a year after the end of WWII. These are Malays who were regarded as pillars of society and could be said to be revered by the older generation.
I’ve already written about this matter before and people of my era would be familiar with names such as Dato’ Andika, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Yassin Malik, Tun Salleh Abas, Ustaz Fadzil Noor, Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, Sanusi Junid, Tun Ghazali Shafie, and many more.
I am honoured to have personally met these Malays who were not only part of history but who helped make history, resulting in what the Federation of Malaya or Persekutuan Tanah Melayu is today. As Winston Churchill would say: never have so many owed so much to so few.
To understand what today we call Malaysia, we need to first understand not only how Malaysia was born, but also how and why Umno came to life.
And this brings us back to the debate about whether Malaysia (or the Malay states) was really colonised by the British. The renowned historian, the late Khoo Kay Kim, says no. Malaysia was not colonised in the real sense of the word. Malaysia was occupied by British business interests.
Basically the British presence in Malaysia was to make money, not to rule over the Malays. And as long as the local population did not disrupt British business activities or threaten British business interests, the British basically left the Malays to their own devices and to rule over themselves.
All land in those days belonged to the Malay rulers or Raja-Raja Melayu. Hence the British had to talk to the Johor Sultan to buy Singapore and to the Kedah Sultan to buy Penang. As for Melaka, the British had to do a deal with the Dutch, who exchanged Melaka for British territories in Indonesia.
In short, only Melaka was a British colony, which was won by conquest. Singapore and Penang were a business deal — and eventually all three, which used to be managed by the East India Company in India, were merged under the Straits Settlements, and managed by the Singapore British government (and no longer by the British in India).
Okay, that is a short 200 years of Malayan history compressed into 200 words. And this is where Umno came in.
After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the British came back to Malaya, but not until two weeks of anarchy and rampaging by the Chinese terrorists, called the Communist Party of Malaya or CPM. Many Japanese “collaborators” were executed and the CPM threatened civil war.
Malaya would turn into a Communist Republic if the British did not act. So Sir Harold Alfred MacMichael came out with the idea to merge all the Malay states into a Union like the United States. But MacMichael’s plan would mean the immigrant population would be given citizenship and the power of the Malay Rulers would be eroded, turning the country into a sort of pseudo-republic.
The rakyat did not care. After all, nothing can be worse than the Japanese occupation or the short rule of the Chinese Communists. The Malays just wanted to be left alone to earn a living as teachers, civil servants, fishermen and farmers and allowed to practice Islam with no hindrance or obstacles.
But the elite class and intelligentsia would not accept MacMichael’s plan. So they revolted. And the United Malays National Organisation (or Umno) was formed in the Johor Palace to unite the many Malay societies, associations, movements, etc., under one umbrella or “payung besar”.
The United Malays National Organisation was formed as an NGO, not as a political party. And it was not formed to fight for Merdeka, as we are constantly being told. Umno was formed to oppose the plan to give Chinese and Indians Malayan citizenship and to defend the monarchy and not reduce it to a paper tiger.
The fight for Merdeka came later. And it was the Straits Chinese, not the Malays who first talked to the British regarding Merdeka. This was because the Straits Chinese supported Chiang Kai-Shek, not Mao Zedong — so they did not want to go back to China and be put to death. The Indians, on the other hand, did not care because most of them planned to eventually go back to India anyway.
Umno had no choice but to also start talking about Merdeka. If not, Merdeka would be won by the Chinese, not by the Malays. In fact, the Malays were quite happy with the British — even the Malay Rulers who sometimes acted more English than the English.
So, Umno was born out of the stupidity of Sir Harold MacMichael. If MacMichael had not tried to be too clever, there would have been no Umno. And if MacMichael had not tried to “disturb” the Raja-Raja Melayu, the Malays would have happily remained under the British Military Administration or BMA.
Nine years later, the British organised the first Malayan elections to test whether the Malays really supported a nationalist Umno, or whether they preferred the Islamist PAS or a Communist/Socialist government. The Alliance Party won 51 of the 52 seats with PAS winning only one. Two years later, Merdeka was proclaimed.
Speaking to the old-timers who were already around during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, they told me the British were actually behind Umno (after 1951) because they wanted Umno to be the benteng against the Islamists and Communists/Socialists.
But that was in 1951, which is 71 years ago. Today, there is no longer any need for a nationalist party like Umno. Malaysia is no longer a country with a 97% uneducated Malay population.
Let me put it another way. Malaysia used to be a country where the rich drive cars and the poor ride horses. Today, the poor drive cars while the rich ride horses. Hence Umno, which served the purpose of the 97% uneducated rural Malays during the Merdeka era, no longer has a role to play in the life of the Malays.
Umno was once an institution. Today, Umno is a struggling political party trying very hard to remain relevant. Keeping Umno around is like keeping that old sampan under your house on stilts to row across the river to attend school. Life is no longer like that. You need Umno like you need a leaky sampan under your house. And Umno must be made to realise that Malays are no longer uneducated and live in wooden houses on stilts beside the river.