Back to the drawing board

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008

Umno needs to relook itself and where things went wrong to ready itself for the future. 

IN 1991, some Kelantanese friends used to say, albeit sarcastically, that top spinning could be the state’s tourism attraction. 

The remarks came after the PAS-led Kelantan government, just a few months after winning the state from Umno and Barisan Nasional, announced the ban of several cultural legacies including Makyong (a dance drama) and wayang kulit (shadow play) performances. 

Similar remarks could be expected of PAS, which has now included Kedah among its trophies.  

Some leaders of the Islamist party have already started talking about using Kelantan as the model for the newly-won states. 

How such intentions would go down with the public who voted for the Opposition parties to take over these states is anybody’s guess. 

And how PAS and its partners, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the DAP are going to resolve their ideological differences is also anybody’s guess. 

But these issues are actually what have kept the voters giving the Opposition fronts a wide berth in the past. 

On their own, for example PAS in the Malay heartlands such as Kelantan and Terengganu, and the DAP in Chinese-dominated constituencies have been able to hold their own. 

Despite their many downs more than their ups, the two parties have always been able to bounce back and continue to find a niche in the political realm. 

But this time around, they seem to have managed to break the boundaries and ventured into domains where the Barisan had ruled supreme. 

Pre-polling and the subsequent results proved that non-Malay voters were for the Opposition. However, the manner Malay voters gave their votes to the Opposition and their abandoning of Umno seems to have caught party leaders by surprise. 

Dazed and reeling from the fact, Umno leaders seem to be grasping on every loose straw they can get their hands on to rationalise their poor performance. 

While some Umno leaders attribute the coalition’s dismal showing to the inability of their component partners – MCA, Gerakan and MIC to deliver – the fact remains that Umno suffered a mauling as well. 

As much as members of their components did not deliver the votes to Umno candidates, Umno members too did not deliver their votes to the components’ candidates. 

In Perak and Selangor, the combined forces of the Barisan supporters had always given the coalition candidates a head start in mixed constituencies which PAS and the DAP had always found difficult to penetrate. 

For example, in a seat like Ampang in Selangor where the breakdown of voters is 56% Malay, 34% Chinese and 9% Indians, the non-Malays had always given Umno’s candidate the edge. But this time they lost the seat. 

In the Sungai Siput seat in Perak where the breakdown of voters is 37% Malay, 40% Chinese and 23% Indians, MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu has been winning the seat with strong Umno votes but he too was abandoned by them. 

In short, either way, Umno has always been the flag bearer in ensuring the victory of its candidates and that of its coalition partners. 

With that equation, Umno has no choice but to take the failure of the Barisan to secure the two-third majority in Parliament and losing four more states, squarely on its shoulder. 

The next obvious thing for Umno to do is to ask itself where it went wrong instead of looking around for someone to blame. 

Arguments put forth by Umno apologists that the party failed to counter lies and misinformation by the Opposition pertaining to price increase and fuel hikes are merely evading the real cause. 

No doubt, the issues of increase in fuel price and cost of living contributed to the voters’ disaffection. No doubt too, promises of minimum wage and lower fuel prices could sway some votes away from the Barisan. 

However, beneath all these contributing factors to the dismal showing of Umno-led Barisan, the ultimate cause is the voters’ disaffection to Umno and its component partners. 

Simply put, a large number of Malay voters who favoured Umno and its partners decided otherwise this time around and instead voted for the Opposition. 

Why did they do so? Do they not care about the Malay rights and privileges which Umno fought for? 

It is doubtful that they don’t. 

If they do care, surely PAS, PKR and especially the DAP, would not be their alternatives? 

To make matters worse, the Umno leadership had ignored the signs and the growing symptoms which were already showing in many areas over the past four years. 

The mistake made was to lump Umno members together with the Opposition when these sentiments were emerging, meaning being in denial that it was not only the Opposition members who were feeling as such but so too were some from Umno. 

Umno also ignored the dissatisfaction down the ranks over the unequal distribution of privileges within the party. 

Malays who may not be Umno members but had over the years been staunch supporters, had felt sidelined, becoming believers in the existence of the not so complimentary Umno-puteras class status. 

When these feelings crystallised, the issues of Umno being the party to be depended on to protect their Malay rights and privileges becomes secondary. 

Any dissent or negative views would not be transmitted in its full force as spins could work wonders in changing black to white. The wonderful tops in Kelantan too can spin for hours. But they will have to stop. 

It’s just a question of when.  

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