Monday, June 2, 2008


By Zarinah Anwar

Shahrir Samad has always been known as a politician who speaks his mind, and who has been punished for doing so. I can’t agree with him more when he said on Monday that Umno members are no longer interested “in championing the cause of the party and country, but their own interest.”

Their goal, he said in a Bernama report, was no longer to provide service to the community and feedback to the party on the people’s needs and concerns, but to gain support of other Umno members to achieve their own political ambitions.

It is obvious for Shahrir and many others observing the relentless and tiresome bloodletting and recriminations in Umno that even the debacle of March 8 was not enough to get the party members to push aside their personal ambitions and vendettas for the survival of the party, let alone the country.

What one hears are emotional outpourings, with little analysis of verified evidence to support the assertions.

Let’s just take one popular bogeyman being used these days as desperate ethno-nationalists and power grabbers fly the flag of ketuanan Melayu and of “Malay rights under threat”. Let’s just look at the numbers.

The Malays make up the majority of the country’s 27.17 million population and the percentage will only increase substantially over the next decades given their higher birth rate.

Political power remains in Malay hands. In spite of the Umno losses, Malay Members of Parliament have actually increased from 123 in 2004 to 130 in 2008, while Chinese representation decreased from 61 to 53. Umno still received the highest number of votes among all the parties in the recent elections, at 2,381,725 votes, almost 30% of the total votes cast.

Together with PAS, which obtained 1,140,676 votes, these two Malay parties garnered 44.3% of the total popular votes. This is not counting PKR, a multi-racial party with a Malay base, which garnered 1.5 million votes.

Compare this to DAP’s 1.1 million, MCA’s 840,489 and MIC’s 179,422.

Just by sheer numbers alone, Malay rights would only be threatened if the Malays commit harakiri. Then, they have no one else to blame but themselves. The force of majoritarianism and the force of history mean Malay special interests as enshrined in the Constitution, which recognises the Malay polity of the land by making Malay the national language, Islam the religion of the Federation, the Sultans the constitutional monarchs, and the use of reservations to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, could be removed only with the consent of the Malays.

Divergent interests
What the largely conservative Umno members and its allies among the ketuanan Melayu ethno-nationalists still cannot get is the fact that the Malays no longer see Umno as the one and only protector of Malay interests.

Nor do they seem to understand the evolution in Malay society and the diverse and divergent interests that have emerged as a result of the success of the Government’s own policies to uplift the status of the Malays. The debacle of Umno is not the debacle of the Malays.

As the Umno Supreme Council members huddle over the party’s future in a retreat this week, I hope they will pore over the election results and crunch the numbers. I hope they would have gathered all the data and analysis now being done by various academics, think tanks, and other political parties, and the surveys on voting trends, and understand on the basis of verified evidence, not emotion and not anecdotes, what exactly happened, why it happened and where the party should go from here.

Clear-headed strategic planning cannot begin and end with just feedback from self-interested divisional leaders and Umno members still lost at sea after the political tsunami.

For the numbers look dire. Analysis by the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research showed that of the 165 parliamentary seats in the peninsula, BN won 85 with only 48.7% of the popular votes and the Opposition took 80 with 51.3%. In the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, the Opposition won 10 of 11 seats with 62% of the votes. In 30 parliamentary seats, BN won by small majorities from 51 to 3,070 votes.

The BN indeed lost popular support in the peninsula, but our first past the post system delivered victory to the party. If Umno’s dire opponent in the past was PAS where state seats were won and lost by single and double digit differences, this time, it has to contend with another opponent, PKR.

In the Merdeka Centre survey done a week after the elections (with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1%), the results showed that even though 72% did not expect the outcome of the elections, an overwhelming majority of 81% were satisfied with the choices they made on March 8 – 90% of the Indians, 85% Chinese and 79% Malays.
Thus, slightly less than two in 10 regretted the choices they made. This should caution the many Umno members who are now talking about snap elections to restore their injured pride. They might yet get another lesson from the rakyat.

The survey also showed that the main reason why the respondents thought the BN lost so many seats was due to widespread public dissatisfaction with the Government. And yet 71% of them wanted the Prime Minister to remain at the helm, and identified controlling and reducing prices, and fair treatment to all races as the two most important issues they wanted him to prioritise.

According to Merdeka Centre executive director Ibrahim Suffian, the voters in focus group discussions did not share the belief of that segment of Umno members who blame the Prime Minister for the unprecedented losses. In fact they believed in the Prime Minister’s change agenda, but blamed the lack of support from Umno, the Cabinet and the civil service, among others, for his failure to deliver.

Yes, it was the push factor that led the voters to cast their support for the Opposition. But the fact that they are satisfied with the outcome means if the Opposition-ruled states meet voter expectations (43% listed fulfilling promises made, and fair and equal treatment of all races as the top two most important expectations they have of Opposition-controlled states), against an Umno and BN that are unable to evolve, the possibility that the once mighty BN would no longer be the country’s governing party could indeed be a reality.

Umno must decide which road to take for it to remain the backbone of a ruling multi-ethnic coalition. It cannot be all things to all Malays.In this Umno-led government’s own action or inaction in dealing with the ethno-religio-centric exploits of segments of the Malay community, Malay civil servants and religious authorities, and in adopting their supremacists’ battle cry at the fateful 2006 general assembly, Umno has alienated progressive Malays and the non-Malays who felt their leaders had betrayed the interest of the community in their silent acquiescence to Umno’s hegemony.

Observing the outcry against the supremacist rhetoric of that general assembly, I wrote in December 2006 how Umno politicians had thought they were reflecting the “mood on the ground”, only to find they had actually lost the ground.
In fact, the Merdeka Centre survey showed that only one per cent of the voters wanted the PKR-controlled states to “apply more Islam in administration”, compared to 19% who wanted “fair and equal treatment to all races”.

Reviving the coalition
The faith most Malaysians had in a BN that could mediate and accommodate the competing interests of Malaysia’s diverse communities has collapsed. Umno as the dominant party plays a critical role in reviving the coalition and maintaining the balance so essential for its survival and continued relevance.

For in the new opposing Pakatan Rakyat alliance, Malaysian voters are being served with a possible alternative to power-sharing among the races and the sexes – where a Chinese or Indian can be the Speaker of state assemblies and a woman a Deputy Speaker; where an Indian can be Deputy Chief Minister; where civil society representatives can be appointed to local councils; and where Mentris Besar appoint more than the token one or two women to the State Executive Council.

The Malays in Umno might see this as a threat to ketuanan Melayu, but the Malays in the Pakatan Rakyat and the Malays who voted for change see this as a slow but necessary evolution towards a more just democratic system where rights are recognised on the basis of citizenship rather than just race, religion, or sex.

A growing segment of the burgeoning Malay middle class is confident and secure enough in their ability to stand on their own two feet and compete with the best in the country and the globalised world.

This Umno and the Government should celebrate for it is their policies that catapulted a generation of Malays into the middle class. The second generation of urban middle class Malays are now influencing political trends, and bucking the sensibilities of the traditional conservative, ethno-centric core of Umno.

Fifty-two per cent of the Malays surveyed did not believe that voting for the DAP made them traitors to the race. Preliminary findings show that most young Malays voted for the Opposition and more than half of PKR votes came from the younger generation of Malaysians across all races.

In fact, 66% in the Merdeka Centre survey wanted the BN component parties to merge into one single multi-ethnic party.

Umno can choose to go either where the voters are or use the sledgehammer to bring the voters to them. The answer is obvious for the future of Umno and this country.

WT- As debated by all ground of people either UMNO members or non members that whether UMNO needs reinvention or transformation esp. the leaders or continuosly assuming that the `very bad' result of PRU12 is part of democratic process? Definitely, UMNO has to do a lot of things to assure people and its members that UMNO will remain relevant to serve to all Malaysian esp. the Malays.

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