Umno regenerating for a comeback

IN a 40-minute video clip shared on my Malay rights WhatsApp group, Umno Youth chief Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki (pic) was seen calmly and rationally schooling a Hindraf activist on Islam and Malays.

It was the night before the anti-Icerd rally at Kuala Lumpur on Dec 8. Asyraf was conducting Facebook Live with about 2,000 viewers to discuss the controversial issue when a Hindraf activist asked for a video conference with him. Many viewers quickly urged Asyraf not to accept the request as the activist was “trouble”.

“I was very curious who this guy that everyone seemed to know is. So, I just accepted his request,” recalled the former Deputy Minister in charge of Islamic affairs.

In the video clip, the Umno Youth Chief looked like he was open to differences of opinion whereas the Hindraf activist imposed his views on others.

The Umno Youth chief said he liked FB live sessions because he could gauge the sentiment on the ground through them. He has also gone on the ground to meet and talk to people. Since winning the Umno Youth chief post in July, he has visited all the states in the country at least twice. The feedback he got from Umno members and supporters was they wanted Umno to be rejuvenated.

He was told the party needed a new image. It must not be arrogant or be tainted by all forms of corruption as it was perceived.

“Is the rejuvenation possible? As you said, Umno’s DNA is tainted with corruption and abuse of power,” I asked.

“It is possible. The first indication is I won the Umno Youth Chief not through the norm,” he said. “It’s an open secret that you have to enter the culture of money politics to win. You have to have strong machinery and resources. You need to be within the system and you have to have a ‘line-up’ to contest. I am not from what is called the Umno Youth factory.”

There’s still hope, Asyraf said, as Umno did not entirely lose GE14. Before some of its MPs jumped ship, it had 54 solid parliamentary seats, making it the largest Malay/Muslim party in Parliament.

“I’ve told people that perhaps God wanted to punish us and teach us a lesson. What is the lesson? So that we will go back to our original struggle, which is true and authentic Islam,” he said.

“We can’t just say that we are defenders of our faith while at the same time entrapping ourselves in all sorts of corruptions and getting tainted with morality and integrity issues.”

It is the best time, according to him, to rejuvenate Umno.

“Now you have to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the party and not be with the party for self-interest. Before, some people saw the party as a vehicle to get a position or a project. But now Umno has nothing to offer,” he said.

Asyraf has been reading a lot on the experience of defeated ruling parties that tried to reinvent itself and make a comeback.

There are three phases, he said. The first phase is they will naturally demand for a leadership change. The second phase is they will demand for the whole party to reflect on what went wrong.

“This is very important because you cannot be in a state of denial. You cannot play the blame game and refuse to admit that some of the factors for the loss were your own mistakes and shortcomings,” he said.

The third phase is to have a clear direction.

“What should be Umno’s clear direction?” I said.

“I have been steadfast in my maiden speech as Youth chief at the Umno general assembly that we have to first admit to our mistakes and there is no harm for us to seek forgiveness, not only from God, but also the people. We have to look back at those mistakes and address and rectify them,” he said.

Asyraf said the most important thing for Umno to do is realise that it is in the opposition because that was what the voters decided in GE14. The people expect the party to be a check and balance on the Pakatan Harapan government.

“The government is not an angel. They are just human beings like us and are bound to make mistakes. They are also bound to be involved in all sorts of hanky-panky and integrity issues,” he said.

“Umno now has 37 MPs from 54 MPs. Will more MPs leave?” I said.

“For me, the most important thing is we have to have a clear direction. The problem before was the party did not send the right message to Umno members from the top-level leadership until the grassroots,” he said.

“What I meant by not sending the right message? It’s what do we aspire to be: are we going to become an effective opposition or do we just want to get into power by having this illegitimate negotiation?”

When Umno entered into an illegitimate, backdoor negotiation to get into power, according to Asyraf, the party became divided.

It is an open secret, he said, that PPBM president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim do not trust each other.

“Both groups are trying to entice Umno parliamentarians. Anwar is very aggressive using a few people to convince Umno parliamentarians to join him whereas Tun M is using various instruments to pressure or persuade them to join him,” he said.

“So, when you have this kind of message sent to people on the ground especially by Umno leaders, the members keep saying what is our direction? Are we going to become part of the government in a short period through back door negotiation? Which side are we going to take – Anwar or Tun M?”

“But most Umno members cannot accept DAP. There were Umno leaders who were going around to say they got a mandate from Umno president (Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) to convince people about why we must support Anwar and DAP,” he said. “This agitated Umno on the ground. That is why some of the MPs started to negotiate with Dr Mahathir.”

“Do you think more Umno MPs will leave?” I asked, again.

“So far the new leadership under Mat Hasan has made things calm. As he has made a clear stand that there is no more negotiation about being in the government in a short period,” said Asyraf, referring to Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who is acting president after Dr Ahmad Zahid stepped aside from his role as president.

“But Umno MPs are individuals who have their self-interest and they might leave the party,” I said.

“For me, it is okay, as it is a natural cleansing process for Umno. Now we can see who is sincere and faithful to the struggle,” he said.

Umno has to rejuvenate to make a comeback.