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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.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

UMNO in Fantasyland

M. Bakri Musa (
Malaysiakini.com August 2, 2005

UMNO in Fantasyland

Editorial lead: Until there I serious self-examination by UMNO leaders, speeches about towering or Glokal Malays will go no further than that.

I am appalled at the lack of outrage with former Sabah Chief Minister Osu Sukam’s massive gambling debts. I am not surprised at the depravity and venality that an individual is capable of, but I am astounded that someone like him could rise to such heights in UMNO. That is an indictment of the system.

The best that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi could muster was to declare that Osu had “failed as a leader.” That must surely rank as the greatest understatement. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir, the man who appointed Osu, was curiously quiet. UMNO Youth leaders, those self-appointed guardians of Malay honor and Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), also did not see fit to comment. As for UMNO Disciplinary Board, it has already closed shop!
Presumably to all these people, Osu is not an aberration; his egregious behavior no longer shocking, rather the norm for UMNO.

UMNO ulama, usually quick to condemn Malays for not wearing the tudung, are also strangely silent. If as a Muslim Osu openly flouts God’s laws, imagine the respect he has for such man-made ones as our anti-corruption laws. The police too are waiting for someone to lodge a report, all in the best tradition of our civil service, Saya menuggu arahan! (I await orders!) To the authorities, Ayah Pin’s Sky Kingdom commune poses a greater threat than Osu Sukam.
That gambling debt was uncovered not by some inquisitive journalists or aggressive investigators from the Anti Corruption Agency, but in sworn court documents.

Isa and Osu Show

Osu Sukam’s gambling mania, Federal Affairs Minster Isa Samad’s “money politics,” and Rafidah Aziz’s Approved Permit controversy are all part of the same sordid political landscape. The characters that emerge would depend on what part of the scene we care to look at carefully.

A few years ago, the Australian authorities caught Muhammad Taib, then Chief Minister of Selangor, with literally millions of dollars in his pocket. His counsel succeeded on a technicality: Muhammad Taib did not understand the customs declaration written in English! The facts of the case were never disputed. Nonetheless that did not prevent him from being reelected UMNO Vice President. Now he is busy lecturing UMNO members on – you guessed it! – the evils of corruption.

This Osu Sukam had no significant assets, inherited or acquired, before entering politics. His chief minister’s salary would not even make a dent on the interest payments of his debts! If the government could not convict him of corruption, then surely it could at a minimum nail him for income tax evasion.

At its recent general assembly, UMNO’s Deputy President Najib Razak talked loftily of “Glokal” Malays capable of competing locally as well as globally. Meanwhile UMNO Youth leaders, the future of the party, were clamoring for extending quotas, special privileges and other elements of the New Economic Policy. That is, more “crutches.” The obvious irony was lost on everyone.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of the “Towering Malay Personality.” That was last month’s flavor! Nor was there any chest thumping over Selangor’s impending celebration of its “developed” status. Give UMNO members credit; even they are not buying that baloney!

Only a few weeks ago UMNO was consumed with money politics, yet not a word was uttered about it at the assembly. Instead, the controversy was on doling out Approved Permits (AP) for importing cars. I wonder what the flavor-of-the-month will be in September!

It is as if the organization and its members were afflicted with a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. The distinguished Royal Professor Ungku Aziz aptly called this the belalang (grasshopper) syndrome. The critter hops from one field to the next, leaving only its droppings and barren leaves as its legacy. A farm could tolerate a few grasshoppers, but not a swarm. That could lay bare a lush field within hours. This plague now threatens Malays, as well as Malaysia.

The professor chose an appropriately agrarian metaphor in contrast to my clinical one in the hope that UMNO members would get it. They did not.

The AP controversy degenerated into an unseemly public spat between Tun Mahathir and his erstwhile ardent supporter Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, with Prime Minster Abdullah reduced to being an irrelevant bystander. In the end, nothing was changed; it was business as usual until next year’s assembly.

During the spat, it was the Iron Lady, not Mahathir, who cried. Unlike the real Iron Lady of Britain, this kampong variety is for turning (against Mahathir), as long as she keeps her cabinet post!

Chanting Shaman

These UMNO shenanigans are all manifestations of the same underlying systemic pathology: corruption. Yet the dreaded “C” word was never uttered. There was an air of unreality or fantasy in all the official pronouncements. They, leaders and followers alike, were obsessed with battling the signs and symptoms of the disease but blissfully ignored the underlying cancer.

UMNO repeatedly asserts that it represents Malays. Indeed it does. Sadly, the picture it presents of our race to the world generally and to non-Malays in Malaysia specifically is less than flattering. As a Malay, this is what I find so highly offensive.

I believe that Allah in His wisdom has granted Malays our fair share of the wise, honest and talented. It has been my privilege to meet many of them in Malaysia as well as abroad.
What baffles me is why they are not found in UMNO. That fact that UMNO attracts the likes of Isa Samad and Osu Sukam, and worse, the likes of them thrive in UMNO, reflects less on Malays but more on UMNO. At least that is my hope.

What incenses me most is when non-Malays presume (not unreasonably in view of the pronouncements of UMNO leaders) that these UMNO characters represent the typical if not the best Malays. It infuriates me even more when these UMNO Malays exhibit the ugly stereotype of our race.

UMNO’s failing is systemic, not of individuals. Stated more directly, UMNO is corrupt to the core. Suspending few selected individuals is not enough. That would be like killing the rooster to scare the monkeys, as the Chinese would say. It would attract their attention with the commotion, but only briefly. Then they would be back to their, well, monkey business.

The cancer in UMNO has metastasized. The patient needs both radical surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Unfortunately, its healer is incapable of anything more than reciting supplications and dispensing sermons. Malaysia needs a cancer surgeon, not a chanting shaman.

Lamentably there is yet no serious self-examination on the part of UMNO’s leadership. Until this is undertaken, talks of a towering Malay personality, “Glokal” Malay, and Ketuanan Melayu will remain just that. Or to use the colorful local lingo, it is all cock talk!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the one who has the power to change is the one who is apparently very comfortable with its current situation of not changing anything at all!

4:05 PM  

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