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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dealing With UMNO's Childish Tantrums

Dealing With UMNO’s Childish Tantrums


Editorial lead: Today, Umno is the problem, for Malays, non-Malays, and Malaysia. Umno has long ceased being part of the solution.

It is heartening that with few exceptions Malaysians have learned to ignore the ritualistic childish tantrums that are now the standard staple at UMNO’s gatherings. The recently concluded General Assembly was true to form, except for the chauvinistic chanting and virulence of the racism breaching even earlier heights of vulgarity.

Child psychologists tell us that the best way to deal with unacceptable behaviors is to indicate your disapproval in no uncertain terms the very first few times the child engages in them. This may include punishment.

If the child were to persist, then other strategies become necessary. Continued disapproval or punishment would be counterproductive, as the child would perceive that as getting attention. We would thus be unwittingly reinforcing the pattern.

This is where UMNO leaders are today. The more angry and ballistic the responses from Malaysians, the more encouraged these infantile Hang Tuah wannabes become. The censuring remarks of the likes of DAP’s Karpal Singh, Gerakan’s Lim King Yeik, and other commentators merely feed on these UMNO leaders’ hunger for attention.

Fortunately most Malaysians have learned to ignore these attention-seeking antics of UMNO. I had to force myself to view the videotapes of the General Assembly; I was bored after the first few keris-brandishing episodes. The only redeeming feature this time was that they did not drip their kerises with ketchup; they probably could not afford the laundry bill the last time.


Monkey See, Monkey Do

Najib Razak, then UMNO Youth Leader, was the first to exploit this now infamous keris-brandishing stunt a few years back. Despite his evident clumsiness, he did not accidentally stab himself. Had that mishap happened, that would have been the end to this obscene choreography, and also to Najib. It did not, and Najib went on to greater heights, in UMNO as well as the nation. So, monkey see, monkey do.

This year we had Hishamudin aping Najib. Next year, if things go as planned, it would be Khairy’s turn. Being an Oxford graduate, he would want to prove that he is better than Hishamudin by trying to upstage him. Expect Khairy to perform the silat or some other equally silly act with his keris brandishing. Being not athletically gifted, watch him fall flat on his face with his keris inflicting a career-ending injury. Such theatrics have to end on a dramatic note.

Were that to happen, it would not be good for Khairy, of course, but it will be for UMNO, Malays, and Malaysia. UMNO members (and Malays generally), still steeped in their mystical beliefs, would view the accident as divine retribution, and we would then be spared further ugly taunting and displays of racism. Short of that happening, expect even more idiotic and obnoxious flaunting. What will they think of next?

Obviously it is much easier to come out with such stunts than it is to bring novel solutions to the intractable problems facing Malays. That would be too taxing intellectually for these folks, their Oxbridge education notwithstanding. Their preoccupation with trivialities matches their juvenile mindset.

At the recent UMNO Johore convention, its leader Ghani, who is also the Chief Minister, suggested that meritocracy was not suitable for Malays! That would unfairly penalize Malay pupils attending poorly equipped rural schools, he argued. That has been the lament since colonial times. I would have expected that after over fifty years of UMNO rule, they would have solved this long-standing problem.

To think that Ghani was once dean at the University of Malaya! Obviously, had meritocracy been practiced there, he would not have reached such academic heights; hence his defense of the status quo.


Breaking the Obnoxious Habit

As UMNO members have abrogated their collective “parental” responsibilities in not disciplining Najib Razak the first time he engaged in that obnoxious stunt (indeed they egged him on), it has now become entrenched. That such ugly behaviors are also career enhancing further reinforces the pattern. Consider that Najib is now Prime Minister-in-waiting.

The only way to disabuse UMNO of such behaviors is not to reward them. The only way to deliver that message to UMNO is in the language its members can understand: blunt, brutal, and delivered in no uncertain terms, as in not voting for them in the next election. This is not the time for subtleties or niceties.

Non-Malays are now the critical swing votes. Even PAS recognizes this reality; its leaders are consciously toning down their Islamic messages and trying to broaden their appeal. At its last Muktamar (convention), it even entertained fielding non-Malay candidates, a seismic shift in attitude and thinking.

If non-Malays abandon UMNO and join the many Malays already disillusioned with UMNO, its candidates would be defeated. The Barisan coalition need not be defeated to effect major change in UMNO. If PAS were to win more seats than UMNO, that would deal a crippling psychological blow. The ensuing blame game and infighting would implode UMNO.

The last time UMNO was threatened electorally in 1969, it triggered a deadly riot. If UMNO were dethroned today, there would be jubilations in Kampong Baru as well as Chow Kit Road. Then UMNO was seen as the defender of Malays; today thanks to the obscenely ostentatious lifestyles of the UMNOPutras, it is nothing more than the party of social and economic parasites. Then Malays were economically marginalized, today with a sizable Malay middle class, Malays have as much to lose as non-Malays should there be turmoil. If there were to be any riot, it would be UMNO members blaming each other and seeking retribution for their collective debacle.

Contrary to Khairy’s naïve expectations, a weakened UMNO would not embolden its Barisan partners to challenge it. Their choice then would be to merge with PAS, not exactly a demure bride-in-waiting. Even if they were to flirt with PAS, it would not necessarily be bad for Malaysia. These non-Malay parties might just be the influence needed to moderate PAS. PAS is after all a political party, not a religious organization. If the price for gaining power is for them to tone down their Islamic message, they will. Currently PAS leaders are self-righteously rigid because they have not been given the political opportunity.

The implosion of UMNO would not be bad for Malays or Malaysia; on the contrary, it would be good. UMNO has long ceased being part of the solution. Today, UMNO is the problem, for Malays, non-Malays, and Malaysia.

We do not need divine interventions like Khairy accidentally falling on his keris to solve UMNO’s problems, it would suffice if voters were to instill a much-needed parental discipline to the party.

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