There is a WhatsApp message that has been circulating with a list of 17 Umno members of Parliament (MP) who could potentially leave the party.
Of the 17 named, two have already announced their resignation from Umno: Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
Mustapa is a quintessential Malay gentleman with gravitas that comes not from a magnetic personality or soaring oratory skills but from sincerity and earnestness. He is genuinely a nice person with a down-to-earth persona who had become increasingly out of step with an Umno that has become arrogant, cocky and ostentatious.
His decision, while shocking to many, does not really surprise those who know him and have followed his political career.
Anifah has been a rebel of sorts with Sabah Umno. Despite being the brother of Tan Sri Musa Aman, the former Chief Minister of Sabah, Anifah has always maintained an independent streak and was one of the strongest supporters of greater devolution of power to Sabah and of the right of Christians to use the term “Allah”.
By losing these two luminaries, Umno finds itself in shock. And with the current leadership openly courting PAS, despite having won three times more seats than the Islamist party in GE14, it begs the question: What are they thinking?
Having been in Barisan Nasional (BN) for 10 years, I was a keen observer of Umno and how it managed the machinations of power. While it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, after the Semangat 46 split in 1987, who created an "imperial" presidency, this was taken to a new level after the 13th General Election (GE13).
Dissenting and differing views were seen as treacherous, and there was simply no room for contrarian views. And this was extended to BN as a whole.
The concept of internal democracy, while augmented by the increase in the number of electors in the party election, was not effective because most of these electors were completely beholden to gratification.
The concept of “cash is king” had seeped through and permeated Umno and BN. The struggle and sacrifice was replaced by allocation and handouts.
This ultimately led to the loss in the 14th General Election (GE14), and one would think that after such a devastating defeat, lessons would have been learnt and things would change.
Alas, that was not to be.
The current Umno leadership is desperate to find its back into the corridors of power. Previous averments by UMNO that Dr Mahathir’s attempts to unseat the previous BN government were akin to “toppling a democratically elected government” have been abnegated. While that is a concept completely repugnant to the principles of parliamentary democracy, Umno should practice what it previously preached.
The dalliance with PAS is completely self-destructive as UMNO will need to cede its base towards a party is had fought tooth and nail before. It would have to play second fiddle despite being the “big brother”. It will also be an exclusive arrangement as opposed to an inclusive one that will push Umno further away from the mainstream of Malaysian politics.
Such a course of action will only hasten the irrelevance of the once grand old party of Malaysia simply because of the myopic actions by its leaders.
The grand old party of Mexican politics, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost power after over 70 years in 2000; it returned to power in 2012. While they loss power in 2018, it shows that comebacks are possible but only if leaders heed lessons from defeat.
Umno must now introspect and reflect as to the reasons for the loss in GE14 and take reparative measures to regain the support of the rakyat.
The constant use of race, religion and the concept of Malay supremacy has been rejected in GE14 and Malaysians voted for clean governance, inclusivity, economic and social justice; and most importantly against corruption.
These are themes the current opposition should champion as it charts back a path in power. Malaysians also experienced such a seamless change in government, I am sure they will not hesitate to do so again in the nearby future.
I have propounded that Umno can only be Umno if it’s in power, and this has proven to be true to a certain extent.
However, the loss of power will also engender a process of attrition, or as the Malays say: “Buang yang keruh, ambil yang jernih”, which means to dispose of that which is bad and retain that which is good.
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multicultural country. Malaysia needs political parties that respect this diversity and not seek to upend it. Umno has always respected this and strive to protect it. Umno has previously been an anchor of moderation but in the past 15 years it has become associated, more and more, with extremism and race-baiting; choosing to prosper in the fault-lines of politics as opposed to rising above it.
However, the biggest disappointment for me was the cooperation with PAS.
After, GE14 there was a general sense of shock and disbelief engulfing UMNO and BN. The loss of support, especially from the non-Muslim community, was seen a slap on the face of then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
As it is with politics, one governs in the interest of one’s supporters. For example, if a Republican wins in a United States of America election, he or she would push for lower taxes, greater social conservatism and economic deregulation. This is the platform of the party and it would be akin to implementing its manifesto.
However, pushing for Syariah criminal law was never part of BN’s manifesto and platform. By allowing PAS to hang the amendments to Act 355 to facilitate the implementation of Syariah criminal law in Kelantan, as a sword of Damocles hung over the heads of Malaysians.
It was a low point in Malaysia’s political history because values and principles had given way to the retention of power.
Gerakan tried its best to fight the amendments to Act 355, and we lost at every turn. I would argue that the system was already tuned to ensure our defeat.
However, it's now history and I hope it is a lesson others would learn from.
While politics requires changing positions and compromises; values and principles should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of power. I do hope the current leadership of UMNO understands this and stops the exodus before it begins.
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