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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, May 13, 2018

Reformasi UMNO - Compelling Reasons Why UMNO Must Be Resuscitated

Reformasi UMNO – Compelling Reasons Why UMNO Must Be Resuscitated
M. Bakri Musa

First of Two Parts

UMNO was severely mauled in the recent GE-14 election. The wounds it suffered could prove fatal. However, with some skillful interventions and an abundance of patience, the party could recover and be rehabilitated to emerge stronger, wiser, and more effective. That would serve not only its members but also other Malaysians and the nation. 

There is also a third possibility. The party could be permanently scarred, crippled, and forever be the laughing stock of the world. UMNO would then be like its current members,  forever demanding its due from others as a matter of privilege based on its claim of having brought independence to the country. It would mock its slogan of “UMNO being Malay and Malay, UMNO,” perverting it into the very antithesis of its noble original intent.

Such a fate would be far worse that if the party were to just fold. 

The future of UMNO is not divinely ordained. Its fate depends less on prayers, more on the collective actions and wisdom of its leaders and members. Thus far the signs are not hopeful or encouraging, despite its president Najib “taking responsibility” and resigning.

The defeat notwithstanding, the fact remains that UMNO as an individual party still has the largest number of seats in Parliament. Yet its members behave as if they are in a fast sinking ship, bailing out not wanting to be the last sucked in under the waves.

There are many compelling reasons to be aggressive in resuscitating and thus saving UMNO. For Malays and the nation, the party is iconic. Its motto Bangsa, Agama, Negara!(Race, Faith, Country) is no empty slogan. UMNO was the first force that woke Malays up and made us emerge from our slumber of insularity. Before UMNO, Malays thought themselves only as subjects of the local chieftains and sultans. Malays still have that residuum of feudalism. 

On a more sentimental level, UMNO is the rare if not only Malay entity that has proven that it could survive beyond a few years of its showy opening ceremonies. Most Malay entities have the lifespan of fireflies. Peruse the records at the Registrar of Companies and Societies. They are filled with volumes of titles of Malay organizations that now exist only in those stacks. Many have fanciful names and noble objectives. The only thing they lack is durability.

Not UMNO. Many Malays trace their UMNO membership through generations.  

For Malaysians, there is another and also sentimental reason to save the party and restore it to its original vigor. It’s the party that spearheaded and then successfully negotiated for the peaceful independence of the country. That ought to count for something. Many others too had the same aspiration and tried, peacefully and otherwise. However the central and key point remains:  It was UMNO and its brother parties in the old Alliance that ultimately succeeded. In the final analysis, that is what counts, not the what-might-have-been or I too had tried.

A more practical reason to save UMNO is that Malaysia – indeed any democratic system worth its name – needs a strong viable opposition, one capable of taking over the government at any time. I do not see any other party outside the winning coalition that had survived the shellacking of GE-14 let alone be ready to govern. MCA and MIC are just about dead; likewise Gerakan. PAS is too busy reciting the Koran and hadith. Those other parties in Sabah and Sarawak have not bothered to think of spreading their influence in the peninsula even when they are not squabbling with each other.

Thus far the current UMNO leaders have not yet proven themselves or shown any indication that they are up to the difficult task of resuscitating the party. That is unfortunate and sad. Consider the party’s 72ndAnniversary held a few days following the debacle of the GE-14. It looked less like a birthday celebration, more a funeral. There were no inspiring speeches from the leaders to rally and inspire the troops after the humiliation they had just endured. Instead they resorted to a collective reciting of Surah Yaseen, the traditional last rites and funeral ritual for Muslims. 

I am not sure that the symbolism escaped the participants. It could well be that they were all aware of the straits they were in and that the occasion was not celebratory but the dispensing of the last rites, if not the actual burial of the party!

It is not enough for party president Najib Razak to resign, though that was a necessary first step. Allhis enablers in the party should also follow suit. That would include the party’s deputy and vice presidents, the heads of all three wings (Youth, Women, and Princess), as well as all members of its governing and policy-making Supreme Council. They all contributed and were responsible for the party’s debacle. Najib was not smart or charismatic enough to get things done his way without their explicit approval. 

While they all should resign right away with Najib, they must however stay in their posts until the new team takes over. Meaning, Najib and those others have a responsibility to call for the party’s General Assembly right away and then ensure a smooth transition. It would be irresponsible for Najib or any other leader to just walk away.

As I see things developing now, the same old, tired characters of Zahid, Hishamuddin, and Khairy, especially the last, all angling for the top leadership. They have not yet even acknowledged their responsibilities for the debacle. They should have the grace to withdraw from consideration for the new leadership. They too should take the blame and then get out along with their president. Grace and class however, are exactly the very qualities so glaringly lacking among top UMNO leaders.

Next:  Reformasi UMNO – Decouple Party Positions From Governmental Appointments


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