What is wrong with Umno?

(This post was originally published at The Malay Mail)

The last few weeks have seen the Umno Vice President candidate Datuk Seri Ahmad  Zahid Hamidi pull out all the stops to endear himself to the Malay heartland.  His campaign tactics have included:

1.      Promoting a shoot first policy amongst the police aimed at wiping out suspected bad hats and criminals

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2.      Accusing the Chinese underworld of being masterminds behind criminal activities; Indians as hit men; and Malays as the primary victims

3.      Implying that the Tiga Line Gang, a banned Malay gang, is actually misunderstood and quite harmless, and tacitly supporting the activities of the gang. The Tiga Line is believed to have links with Malay NGO Pertubuhan Kebajikan dan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Pekida), which in turn is strongly linked with Umno.  The group is alleged to be involved in drug distribution, car-jacking and night-club protection.

Columnists from the mainstream media, notably from The Star, have tried to downplay his irresponsible and inflammatory and racially divisive speeches, claiming that he is simply burnishing his “tough-guy image” and linking his comments to the on-going leadership campaign for the three vice president positions in the party.

As articulated by The Star’s main political writer, “[a]fter all, Umno is the abbreviation for United Malays National Organisation. Its members are essentially Malay nationalists, patriotic to king and country and bound together by the religion” (see here).

Should we Malaysians accept this rationalisation for some of the most rabid public speeches ever made by a senior government minister?  Should we see it as just “halal” or “kosher” political talk and agree that there is nothing wrong with such talk because Zahid is a Malay nationalist?  Should we simply shrug our shoulders and accept that what Zahid and his supporters, and similar contenders for other positions, are sprouting is simply campaign talk – a position which The Star would prefer its readers to accept?

Political behaviour in Malaysia

In most other democratic countries of the world, guilty politicians making such utterances ― when exposed ― would be forced to commit political hara kiri.  Zahid’s defence of extra-judicial killings is especially contemptuous. Make no doubt about it – it is a tacit invitation to the police to engage in killings whenever they feel remotely threatened. Any other politicians with any sense of personal honour would resign or would be compelled by his superior ― in this case, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak ― to leave office.  In any other multi-racial society, the public shame and odium of these racist views would condemn the miscreant to resign and retire from public office and politics.

But not in Malaysia where they get away scot-free with the connivance of the mainstream media which not only looks the other way but also makes excuses for them.  As the cynics put it, “Malaysia Boleh!”

Far from being chastised or publicly shamed, Zahid and his supporters now think of him as the “chosen one”.  Most polls have him as the front runner amongst the vice president candidates and presumably in the running for the country’s top position in the foreseeable future.

Let’s also not forget his chequered past when he was an ally of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim but was welcomed back into the Umno fold for stating that Anwar had put him up to raising allegations of cronyism and nepotism during Tun Dr Mahathir’s time and that Anwar had also abused his position as Finance Minister to direct business opportunities to him.

Can such a man be trusted?  Apparently Umno supporters and rank and file seem to think so. The results of the race for vice president will soon be out. Meanwhile the mainstream mass media is trumpeting the election of Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil as proof of the triumph of the liberal and progressive faction in Umno.

Rot in Umno runs deep

Many Malaysians beg to differ. One contributor to one of the most popular pro-Umno blogs has described the situation in the party well:

UMNO is being controlled by disillusioned, clueless treasure hunters.

Most ― not all ― consider Umno as second chance. The number of bankrupt aspirants vying for party positions is a case in point.

To change Umno the usual way will not work as result of current party election show.

The current govt manifests the choice of poor Malays and it is in the interest of Umno office bearers to keep them poor because they can easily be swayed by BRIM and other form of bribes. Therefore it is understandable that the more educated Malays are drifting towards PKR. It is more of “perasaan malu” to be a part of a party which has morphed into something terrible.

From this and other accounts, it is clear that the rot in the party is deep and runs from top to bottom. There are still some good people within the party but they need to put a stop to Zahid and other similar leaders or bail out from the party before they too are sucked into extremism, corruption and mis-governance.

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