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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, February 20, 2024

The malay Dilemma Today Part I: UMNO's Irrelevance and the Vacuity of its Leaders

 The Malay Dilemma Today

M. Bakri Musa


Part One:  UMNO’s Irrelevance And The Vacuity Of Its Leaders


(First of Three Parts)


It reflects the irrelevance of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) and the vacuity of its leaders that the party had postponed its Bumiputera Economic Pre-Congress Colloquium scheduled on February 3, 2024. Instead they met to discuss the Royal Pardon Board’s decision to ‘lighten’ the sentence on former Prime Minister Najib Razak for his central role in the massive 1MDB corruption.


            In so doing UMNO leaders chose to focus on something they admitted that they could do nothing (“We respect the Pardon Board’s decision . . .”) while deferring if not ignoring a critical agenda where they could potentially play a major role. That is, alleviating the longstanding pathetic socio-economic plight of Malays.


            As my old wickedly witty classmate Nik Zainal back in Kuala Kangsar in the early 1960s would put it, UMNO’s decision may be sound (at least to them) but alas only sound! Levity aside, UMNO’s action (or rather inaction) reflects a much bigger issue – our culture’s penchant for show over substance, to be seen doing something over actually doing it.


            It is the old pernicious peraga syndrome, or as the engineers would put, low signal-to-noise ratio. The long drawn-out preambles at Malay gatherings, par for the course even with business and academic presentations, reflect this.


            Consider the recent and continuing overblown reactions to Najib’s pardon. The fact that it would not materially alter the reality escapes many. The 70-year-old man still has a long prison sentence, hefty fines, and massive tax liens, quite apart from the current ongoing trials that would not be affected by the partial pardon. UMNO leaders and others are fulminating over something meaningless. Again, peraga!


            Today’s UMNO is but a pale shadow of its earlier glorious version. Established in 1946, its then farsighted leaders undertook a bold and unprecedented move to reach out to leaders of the other communities for the common goal of getting rid of British colonialism. The wisdom of that decision was Malaysia getting her independence peacefully.


            Alas this Semangat 46 (Spirit of 46) has all but evaporated, replaced by the current miasma of fetid corruption. UMNO is no longer Agama, Bangsa, dan Negara (Faith, Race, and Nation) but Kami, Keturunan, dan Kembung! (Me, my progenies, and my gluttony!) 


            UMNO Youth, once dubbed the ginger wing for its penchant in spicing things up and making the top leaders squirm, is today populated by young ambitious politicians of the supplicant Hang Tuah strain. UMNO Youth is bereft of jantans (alpha males).


            Mahathir Mohamad, UMNO’s longest serving President, is responsible for this sorry state. He later resigned from the party, an ingrate of the lowest order. That changed nothing, not him nor UMNO. It is also significant that all UMNO leaders left the party on less-than-laudatory terms, the exceptions being Tun Razak who died in office, and Abdullah Badawi.


            Mahathir introducing the “no-contest” rule for the party’s top slots was but a bald attempt to discourage challengers, the signature mark of an insecure leader. He instituted that following his near-death experience after being challenged by Tengku Razaleigh in 1987. That rule was later embraced with even greater enthusiasm by his successors, accelerating the party’s rot.


            Malay leaders within as well as outside of UMNO fail to grasp a central pathetic reality. That is, a developed Malaysia would not necessarily result (and indeed has not) in a similar status for Malays. Kampung Baru, a hideous wart on Kuala Lumpur’s otherwise glittering face, epitomizes this, quite apart from being a constant and very visible reminder, not that one is needed. On the other hand, a developed Malay society would mean not only a prosperous Malaysia but also a stable one. Thus the challenge is more with improving the lot of Malays. A backward Malay society in a thriving Malaysia is a catastrophe waiting. The gruesome May 1969 incident was but a preview, and a mild one.


            The tragedy is that there are many ready examples where the previously backward majority had overcome their obstacles. Ireland’s Catholics of the 1950s and Quebec’s French-Canadians of the 1960s come to mind. A tragic reminder of the reverse, the majority being worse off despite their being in charge, is today’s South African Blacks.


            Emulate the Irish and French-Canadiens; there are no secrets or magic. As the Stanford physician-novelist Thomas Verghese put it in his best-selling The Covenant of Water, “Secrets are hidden in the most obvious places.” That applies to things as well as ideas and insights. 


            The second of my three-piece article explores what we can learn from the Irish and Quebecois of this not-so-hidden secret so as to spare Malays from the tragic plight of Blacks in today’s South Africa.


Next:  Second Of Three Parts:  The Lessons From Ireland And Quebec


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