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UMNO not dominating, not racist?

By Daniel John Jambun
I congratulate the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for his sterling performance in his speech at the on-going Umno General Assembly. Even Tun Mahathir who had been so critical of Najib all this while was impressed and expressed support for him because now “he is a different man.” The speech achieved its purpose of raising the spirit of the delegates and observers. He may even have discouraged certain factions in the party from possibly putting up a challenge to his leadership.

However, there are two points in the speech which I would like to address, i.e. Najib’s assertion that Umno is not dominating, and that it is not a racist party. While I appreciate the good intention of these statements, I feel that they are not totally accurate if we look at the real situation today. Najib’s reference to not dominating is on the way he handles party elections, i.e. without dominating the party electoral process like what Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had done in PKR’s last party election. However, at the BN level, Umno cannot deny that it is the dominating power over all the other components. It is Umno which decides many things in the country, e.g. it implements the unwritten rule that only the Umno leader can become the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister and several other senior cabinet posts. The national Barisan Nasional Supreme Council very rarely meets because Umno feels it can make all the decisions without consulting the other component parties because Umno’s decisions are seldom, if ever, questioned. And this Supreme Council is very much dominated by Umno as well because Umno holds the post of Chairman (Najib), Deputy Chairman (Tan Sri Muhyiddin), Secretary General (Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Bin Tengku Mansor), and Treasurer General (Dato' Seri Hj. Ahmad Husni Mohd Hanadzlah), Youth Chief (Datuk Khairy Jamaluddin, who is also the Umno Youth Chief) and Women’s Chief (Dato' Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who is also the Umno Wanita Chief). The various component party leaders are appointed as Vice Chairmen and their Deputy Chairmen and Secretary Generals as Committee Members. At one time the MCA had questioned this arrangement in which the BN Supreme Council doesn’t have any say on the appointment of the Prime Minister and cabinet members. In fact, one can ask what the BN Supreme Council is really for if almost all BN decisions are made by Umno.

At the state level in Sabah, the Umno is also the one dominating all the senior posts, including the Executive Secretary’s post. In the same style as the national BN, the state BN also seems to have little purpose because it seldom meets. Because it rarely meets, the component parties have no opportunity to express their views on many issues, and this causes them to voice out all sorts of grievances about their own coalition or about other components through the media.

As to the issue of whether Umno is racist or not, it is quite clear that this time around the Umno is trying very hard to show that it doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of other races, like it did a few years ago during which the delegates spokes so angrily about Malay rights that an MCA leader admitted he feeling was hurt. But being racist doesn’t mean you hate other races. Racism can also be expressed by too much talk about your own race, to demand rights for your race and your religion. In this General Assembly, Umno delegates still had not managed to control themselves from doing this. Before the assembly, Perkasa had urged the delegates focus on Malay interests. After all, this has been the tradition of Umno for half a century. As “the” Malay party, it is supposed to keep fighting for Malay rights and interests, because it must also try to upstage PAS in the effort to garner Malay support. So in a lot of sense, Umno is racist and has to be racist, just like MCA and MIC also have to be racist because they are not multiracial parties.

This makes us wonder, if maybe Umno needs to reevaluate its position as a Malay party. As the backbone of the BN, shouldn’t Umno be trying to be the leader of all Malaysians regardless of their race and religion? Why should it continue harping on Malay interests, rights and to keep hinting on Malay supremacy as the senior partner in the ruling national coalition? Realistically, it should be a party of Malaysians, not of Malays. If Umno is really serious about reformation and transformation for the nation, then it should set an example by becoming a non-race party like PKR and Kita. This step will go a long way towards eradicating racial politics in Malaysia. If Umno continues to talk about transformation while it continues to be a racial movement, then Umno is just being hypocritical about change and renewal for the country.

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