What is reform to Umno?

By Wan Hamidi Hamid
Political Editor

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — Are Umno leaders on the same wavelength with the rest of the country over the issue of reform?

Among the many definitions of reform is to "make changes for improvement in order to remove abuse and injustices". This is what the opposition Pakatan Rakyat is propagating and this is also the call by some Umno allies in the Barisan Nasional.

However, from the top to the bottom of the Umno hierarchy, the cry of reform simply means to get rid of president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and to strengthen the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) agenda. No one is really serious about removing "abuse and injustices".

Although not many dare ask the Prime Minister to resign, those who do believe it can resolve the party's woes after the March 8 general election debacle. For them, without Abdullah, the party can move on with its Ketuanan Melayu agenda.

The problem with this is, with or without Abdullah, Umno top leaders must continue to promote the racial supremacy agenda, much to chagrin of BN component parties who believe that was the main reason for the massive losses in this year's elections.

Whether Abdulah's deputy Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak or vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, or even an outside challenger such as Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is the one to lead Umno, the problem remains the same.

With Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's return to Parliament today, riding on a Ketuanan Rakyat (supremacy of the people) platform and a rejection of race politics, his popularity among the non-Malays — representing 40 per cent of the population — is on the rise.

Many of those who disliked Anwar in the past, especially when he was the deputy to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, have begun to evaluate his new political offerings. While the majority of the non-Malays are already getting closer to giving him their full support, the Malays too are beginning to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Initially many political pundits saw the support for the opposition in terms of a protest vote against BN. It was true for the March 8 political tsunami. It was to teach the "arrogant" BN leaders a lesson, some argued.

Almost six months later, even those loyal BN supporters who regretted voting for either PKR, Pas or DAP on March 8 have absolved themselves of such a sin. They see the Umno and BN leaders, although not all, have not learnt their lesson — they are still arrogant, uncouth and corruptible.

Now MCA and Gerakan leaders are allowing members to think aloud, saying that Umno must get rid of parochial race politics if it wants to continue cooperating with them. The two Chinese-dominated parties are being pressured by grassroots members who have seen that despite ideological differences, Pakatan Rakyat is based on equal partnership. BN component members are unhappy with the master-servant relationship, as described by some of their senior leaders.

But Umno is already trapped in its Ketuanan Melayu game.

Abdullah has tried to explain what it means — the Malays must strengthen themselves to be successful and developed, and it is not to dominate, rule over and force their power upon other races.

Unfortunately for the Umno president, his definition is not the one accepted by many top and low level leaders whose understanding is that Malay supremacy means the masters of the land, and no one should challenge, let alone question it.

The racial agenda has been translated into many forms of intimidation — at least in the eyes of the non-Malays and even some liberal Malays — such as threatening to take stern action against those who question Malay privileges and demanding the government provide more aid and assistance to the Malays at the expense of the multiracial taxpayers.

At the current meetings of Umno branches nationwide, despite a few calls for the Prime Minister to resign and for the party to abolish the quota nomination system for party polls, the Ketuanan Melayu bit has become a compulsory war cry.

At branch-level meetings, some are just race-baiting — the non-Malays will take over the country if the government stops giving the Malays more power, jobs, business and education opportunities and other perks.

The question is — if they take over the Umno leadership, can Najib, Muhyiddin or Tengku Razaleigh reform Umno to suit with the needs of all Malaysians? Or will the racial supremacy continue to reign to the detriment of Malaysia's multiracial society?

The Federal Constitution's provision for the Malays is to help the underprivileged and bring the Malays out of poverty. To promote racial supremacy and segregation is not constitutional.

This is the problem Umno leaders must resolve if they truly want a Bangsa Malaysia, as espoused by one of their great leaders, Dr Mahathir, despite the veteran politician's racist remarks.

In his own words 15 years ago Dr Mahathir said: "The establishment of a fully united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny, a nation that is at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in harmony and in full and fair partnership, made up of one Bangsa Malaysia (one Malaysian nation) with political loyalty and dedication to the nation."

It's up to Umno leaders now if they really want to achieve the former premier's dream of Vision 2020, and that's just 12 years from now, or continue to talk racial politics.


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