There is always this tendency among UMNO leaders to trivialize the erosion of people’s confidence in them. It’s the fallacy of forced over-optimism. The Ali Rustams, the M.Taibs, the lesser myrmidons make light of the messages. The trivializing mentality is typified by statements like- UMNO lost because the OTHER side played dirty. WE are still ok.
The people of Pekan, Najib’s constituency, may be shielded from realizing the truth. After all they have enjoyed the spillover effects of having a favorite son becoming the national leader. They are promised even more. But what happens if UMNO loses the federal government?
Can trivialities or fickle-mindedness explained the massive shift in votes away from UMNO in the recent general elections? UMNO lost its mandate to rule in 5 states and is basically impotent in Federal Territory with one seat? Can trivialities explain why more than 1 million UMNO members did not support UMNO candidates? With a membership of 3.2million, UMNO candidates secured probably only 2.0million votes? Can trivialities explain why out of the 5.7 Malay votes, UMNO candidates secured only 2million? It’s insulting our intelligence to accept suggestions that these are flashes in the pan.
So the leaders speak of change. Muhyidin speaks of change. Najib because he is a stout defender of the UMNO tradition, is slower to endorse the calls for change. In the end, everyone joins in the choir and chorused we must change. Change what? What changes are UMNO leaders talking about? What particular changes is Dato Najib talking about? If his idea of change means imperceptible re-arrangements here and there, slipshod steps taken for publicity stunt, UMNO is gone. Such changes serve only to reaffirm people’s perception that really UMNO doesn’t want to change the system.
What is the system that UMNO has? Looking at UMNO, I would say, that it has a system almost akin to colonialism of old. I remember reading a very telling definition of colonialism by that grey eminence across the causeway as something like this. The colonial system is that which allows the masters to build his house or mansion on the rock, or hillock or hill. On the other side, in the swamps, the natives get to set up their atap houses, zinc-roofed hovels etc. This system cannot be changed by having the natives move inches away from the edges of the swamps. They have to be moved to higher ground or the swamps filled up with earth or whatever. In short, the change we want is nothing short of revolutionary social change.
UMNO leaders get finicky when the word revolution is mentioned. Violent changes by violent means? To pacify the keristuans, that’s why we place the qualification- social revolution of the system. UMNO has a system where the power elite could not hold on anymore while its members, 3 million of them, will no longer tolerate.
The politics of dignity.
How will he propose to get UMNO out of this deep rut? What can Dato Najib do to re-invent UMNO? He knows and we hope he does, that transaction politics, exemplified by shameless acts of pork-barrel politics are no longer saleable to voters. The verdict of the KT election is a signal of things to come. The rakyat are slowly but surely moving up the ladder of quality politics instead of succumbing to the usual stick and carrot politics. They are emboldened by quiet confidence and political awareness. People are just fed up of being bullied or paid into submission. The people are demanding dignity. They want to be treated honestly and with dignity.
This idea of pork-barrel politics in whatever forms must be abandoned. The idea of vote for us you get something and don’t vote for us you get punished must be thrown out. It is the height of political blackmail and practice of pork-barrel politics at its crudest, when Federal government blackmails state governments into submission. The federal government which is an extension of UMNO’s political habits must show at least it has honesty of purpose. Its purpose is nothing short of having citizens of Malaysia’s interest as the highest priority. Give what’s due to them without the pork-barreling. .
Many of us have heard the saying- respect has to be earned not demanded. How does the UMNO government react when a state government is controlled by an opposition government? UMNO led governance is just another extension of UMNO money politics- support us, you get this and that.
In the case of Kelantan, funds are channeled through the UMNO warlords in the state, the ketua bahagians. It is common to hear statements that Kelantan UMNO warlords don’t want UMNO to win back the state. Not winning the state makes them indispensable and relevant to the UMNO cause of winning back the state. Consider the case of Terengganu. The condescension that went along with sequestering the oil revenue with such opinions like we don’t want the money to fall into the wrong hands or we can manage the money better. You see, UMNO doesn’t behave in ways that merit respect. UMNO’s governance is another pyramid-system of doing business.
As Tengku Razaleigh says, UMNO is in uncharted waters with no good captains. And like the blogger Malaysian Finance Blogspot says, ‘ it’s a dangerous place when more and more of the general public think they can run the country better than the government, and what’s even more dangerous than that is that the public are not wrong about that’.
UMNO is facing a population that is increasingly aware of things, better educated, outspoken and articulate. Yet UMNO offers them candidates with passable mental abilities, crude social behavior and those kinds of leaders you would normally find in the Selayang Pasar Borong or the Chow Kit Road quality? Example: when I hear people like Ali Rustam and Muhd Muhd Taib saying that UMNO lost because the other side used dirty tactics- I am saying to myself, UMNO is already behaving like a party out of power. And these are aspirants to higher offices in UMNO.
The Nature of Leadership.
What we need then is leadership. Firm and decisive but respect human dignity. I hope Dato Najib understands the nature of leadership. Especially, the perception of leadership and what it means to an Asian society such as ours. Leaders are expected to lead, firmly, decisively and justly. It’s worthless just spewing out palliatives that we will change and all that, we will re-engineer UMNO and all that, if the nature of leadership is not understood.
Let me illustrate. In the last 10 days, during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, protestations reached feverish peaks. Sloganeering, denouncing this and that, kick out this and that, spilled over to criticisms personal in nature. First, on Li Peng and then Deng Xiaoping. What happened next? A leader cannot govern when people mock him like this. People will lose respect. Respect is the foundation of leadership. You may not be liked but, you must be respected. Mahathir is not liked by many, but I believed he is respected. The Chinese government put a stop to that, sending in the PLA and even tanks. Why? Not because they cannot tolerate dissent, but they cannot entertain erosion of respect.