Redefining the Malay Agenda - Zaid IbrahimSome of my friends have been somewhat critical of my tweets and blog posts lately, simply because I have been commenting on UMNO and even praising Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The less sophisticated have interpreted this as my way of trying to get back into the UMNO fold. But the truth is it’s UMNO season and whatever happens in the party will affect all of us, whether we like it or not. Given that, I write with the hope that some of what I say can, in some small way, influence the delegates and the party chiefs.
Uppermost in the UMNO vocabulary is the expression of the Malay Agenda, a potpourri of rights and entitlements that the party claims is fundamental for the Malays. This will be the main thrust of the party leaders’ speeches during the upcoming UMNO General Assembly. With the results of GE13 and the Chinese and Indian communities’ rejection of UMNO/the Barisan Nasional, it’s natural to expect that everyone will have a wild time bashing the Chinese. Some nutty ones will ask for the Treason Act to be enacted—they will want the Chinese to be sent back to China and Islam and the Malay Rulers to be strengthened. These are the kind of steps the unthinking Malays in UMNO will be clamouring for, but all that will lead to is yet another show of misplaced anger and another round of wasted time.
It would be far more constructive if they were to instead talk sensibly about why the Malay/Bumiputera community has been steadily leaving UMNO. It’s no use ridiculing them for being “ungrateful”; instead, focus on the plight of young voters and how to overcome their concerns. To get these young voters back, party leaders have to offer more than just slogans and speeches laden with racial overtones. They need to address corruption, abuse of power, the wastage of resources and mindless bureaucracy. If Malay leaders could be honest enough to admit it, they would recognise that giving more power to the Malay Rulers and “strengthening Islam” (whatever that means) will not solve these problems.
Then look at education; if Umno thinks they should get more Malays to the universities because they can increase the quota then think again; these unemployed or unemployable graduates will be the ones who will pull them down in the next election. Its better to have Malays / Bumiputras skilled at the highest level by giving them proper training in business and technical know how than sending them to universities .Just to increase the number of graduates so we have more than the Chinese is a silly strategy unless the standards are high and employment is assured. Learn from Singapore where they limit the number of graduates as a proportion of their population. Unemployed graduates and especially the unemployable ones are ripe for street marches.
Getting some Malay Rulers involved in political controversy is rampant lately . This is another silly strategy. The cause of Malay backwardness ; or even the lessening of Malay political power if true ; could not be resolved by resorting to emotional and symbolic posturing. Hard decisions have to be made to empower the Malays and the Bumiputras and its best Malay political parties avoid getting entangled with the institution they could not criticize. The lessons of the 90’s when Dr Mahathir had to face those issues should not be lost on the present leaders.
The Malay bureaucracy is a clear source of inefficiency and corruption and it’s time UMNO addresses these issues. The more licences and approvals are needed in order for business to be carried out, the more opportunities rich Malays and non-Malays have to excel. The man on the street does not have the resources to pay for such opportunities. Some people say Najib is better equipped to modernise and industrialise the country further and his plans to bring Malaysia to developed nation status by the target date is more realistic. Still, we need to know the details. Where will Malaysians who are less educated and who have less capital at their disposal—particularly the Malays—be under Najib’s plans? Can they afford to live in their own country or will they be forced to move to Sumatra where their ancestors came from? These are wide-ranging issues that can be discussed among UMNO members, resulting in the kind of constructive conversation that can rejuvenate the party.
This is the time for party members to debate and discuss extensively the direction UMNO should take. It is in this context that I am advocating a leadership contest. You cannot rejuvenate the party and inspire the confidence of young voters unless the leaders articulate more progressive policies and showcase the talents they have in order to assume the country’s leadership. Najib and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have different approaches to leadership and it would be enlightening to see where they are different, both in terms of their ideology and management style. More importantly, such a contest would allow a party that is clearly going south to take stock of itself and make some big decisions. Which leader is better equipped to tackle the mother of all scourges, corruption? This is one of many worthwhile element of the new Malay Agenda that is now worth pursuing.