FOUR days of speeches and debates have left Umno’s camp-followers exhausted. They are now ready to return to their kampung to herald in the Ramadan and turn their thoughts to more religious pursuits.
Being the country’s premier Malay political party, much of the attention was spent talking about promoting the Malay agenda.
The political aspect of such concerns was easily dealt with.
“No other race has the right to question our privileges, our religion and our leader,” said Jerai MP Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin.
“Don’t disturb the hornet’s nest. If you disturb it, the hornets will sting,” he added to applause from the floor.
Such statements were almost pro-forma given that the Constitution already provides safeguards for Malays.
Religion, too, was efficiently dealt with, given Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s introduction of Islam Hadhari, both to bring Muslims to a more accepting, progressive practice of Islam and to counter PAS.
The economy, and by extension education, then, were the main issues on the Malay agenda.
“The programmes to enhance Malay participation in the economy are without focus and direction,” said Youth chief Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, urging that yearly assessments to gauge their success be carried out seriously.
“Unless there is a guarantee of a level playing field, Malays will never be able to compete fairly,” he said.
Varyingly hard-hitting or emotional as they sounded, the speakers were playing to a specifically Malay-Umno gallery.
The Malay agenda has moved considerably from Umno’s first decades, when its founding fathers saw the Malay goal solely in political terms: the 1940s fight against the Malayan Union, the 1950s struggle for independence and the 1960s formation of Malaysia and resistance against Indonesia’s Konfrontasi.
But after the 1969 race riots, the Malay agenda took on an economic focus. Raising Malay participation in business through the New Economic Policy of the 1970s and 1980s was aimed at achieving 30% bumiputra equity and enlarging the bumiputra management pool.
Thirty-five years on, this has only been partly achieved. Malays at most own 19% of equity, much of it in government-managed trust funds.
Now the National Development Policy (NDP) has picked up where the NEP faltered.
Abdullah urged Malays to throw away the crutches that they have become so dependent on and so comfortable with.
Many reasons exist for Malay failure to shoulder through the corporate ticket that Chinese, in particular, have formed.
Cultural attitudes is one. Malays are not risk takers. They do not have big dreams. Malay science graduates become teachers. Creating innovative gadgets for world consumption, or scientific discovery for international patent, is alien to Malays.
“Malays are good at retail,” said KUB chairman Datuk Hassan Harun of Kelantan, an outgoing supreme council member.
“But these are the little businesses: selling keropok, songket, batik. They have been doing this for years.”
“I don’t expect Malays to achieve (the original) 30% equity in six years’ time,” he said realistically.
At the end of the day, Malays do not think that making money is the be all and end all of life. To many Malays, wheeling and dealing, cornering niche markets and independent trading on the bourse are almost “dirty.”
Religious constraints also curb the ringgit chase. Muslims are not supposed to take monetary interest. They may, however, share the profits of a business venture.
Two percent of earnings or profit should be passed on to the poor through zakat. In addition, Muslims are encouraged to give alms, for as in Christianity, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Listening to the debate, Malays would appear to see others as economic rivals. Yet much of the weaknesses are within themselves.
“It is so easy to fool Malays,” said a Negri Sembilan party campaigner.
“They don’t read the business pages.”
Quality members will make for a quality party which understands the Malay struggle to have a better standing in society, said Wanita chief Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz.
“Otherwise, we will continue to talk about the Malay future over and over again without having an end in sight,” she added.