Dr M and Ku Li: a tussle between ends and means

The two political veterans both uphold the cause of Malay unity but are far apart on how unity will be achieved.

Sean Augustin and Nicholas Chung, FMT

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Umno stalwart Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah have been vocal for decades about the need for Malay unity, but differ when it comes to achieving it.

After separate interviews they gave to FMT recently, it could be concluded that for Mahathir, the end justifies the means – while the opposite is the case for Razaleigh.

For Mahathir, the platform did not matter as much as the cause. Whether he was in Umno, Bersatu, Pejuang or Gerakan Tanah Air, his theme was always about uniting the Malays or risking the community becoming politically and economically weak compared with the non-Malays.

But for Razaleigh, familiarly known as Ku Li, it was Umno that brought the Malays together, where formerly they were split on parochial lines regarding themselves as Johoreans or Kelantanese or Selangorians first.

But the Malays are currently split, says Mahathir, blaming his successors (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak) for the deep division in the community caused by the formation of splinter parties. Loyalty to these entities weakened the community, he feels.

“If you are loyal only to the (splinter) party, then the Malays will be split, and they will lose the elections. But if they do not tie themselves to their own parties, then they can come together,” he said.

Mahathir would argue that the Umno of yesteryear was about its struggle for Malay unity, based on its principle of “demi agama, bangsa dan negara” (for religion, race and the nation).

Razaleigh, however, holds that Umno turned the Malays into a people meant to “build and not to dominate”, and Malays should be grateful to Umno for its ability to bring the community together.

It is this reverence for Umno that kept Razaleigh loyal to the party, except for a brief period when he formed Semangat 46 in the 1980s following the well-publicised clash with Mahathir that divided Umno into two camps.

Razaleigh is determined to stick with Umno, despite having described the party in May as being doomed. “I will fight. Not just ditch (the party) and leave to go on my own. I don’t think that’s right.”

He said if someone felt that the party was heading in the wrong direction, then such a leader should fight to steer it back to the right path.

Another factor keeping Razaleigh in Umno is the fact he is not an opportunist who would defect to the winning team.

Razaleigh, Malaysia’s longest-serving MP from 1974 to 2022, prefers looking ahead, to the future of the Malays. “What are the Malays going to be?” he ponders.

Razaleigh and Mahathir clashed in the 1980s when the latter was prime minister. It culminated with Razaleigh challenging Mahathir for the Umno presidency in 1987, which led to an open split in the Malay party and Umno being deregistered. It was revived by Mahathir as Umno (Baru).

While Razaleigh co-founded the now defunct Umno splinter Semangat 46 in 1989 to challenge Mahathir, he later disbanded the party and re-joined Umno.