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Sunday, 23 August 2009

UMNO’s Challenge and Response

Challenge and response in UMNO.

Now that PM Najib has come back from a much earned holiday, he must seriously ponder the question about the future of UMNO. He has started dismantling some of the institutions from old school UMNO. We have seen how he has started liberalising some aspects of the economy, break up the mandatory 30% rule on equity ownership, dismantle the FICC, and indicate that he wants to carry out changes regarding the iniquitous GLCs and more. Along those lines he must be supported even if it upsets the man who ruled Malaysia for 22 years.

Who is going to break UMNO's cake of custom? PM Najib cannot do it alone. He must have a crack team that's willing to go the distance. Unfortunately if the choice of the Permatang Pasir candidate is any indication, as regards leadership, UMNO is indeed scraping the bottom of the barrel. You come up with hardened sludge.

Unless, enlightened leadership in UMNO is willing to undo the various archaic traditions and customs, UMNO is going down. Not until UMNO members cut through the duplicitous exploitation of things dear to Malays, can UMNO reinvent itself. Unless members realise that those same interests which are hawkishly thrown about, are in fact achievable by other rational methods, UMNO will never change.

For example:

  1. Why should we accept that Malay economic salvation and parity can only be achieved by the 30% formula? Why can't it be achieved by direct economic empowerment of the Malays?
  2. Why must Malay economic advancement be made to depend on government intervention through such means as creating unit trusts, GLCs and other means of intervention into the market economy?
  3. Why must Malay political dominance be made to spend on not changing UMNO leadership? Why indeed after agreeing that UMNO leadership be directly chosen by over 60,000 members, we still qualify eligibility to fight for the top posts with certain conditions? That forces us to accept that whoever are the incumbents have the monopoly over answers how best to serve Malays. Surely that is patently wrong as no one leader in UMNO has monopoly over answers to advance the Malays.

The fact is, Malays are not angry with what UMNO stands for. They are incensed with the old school leadership and any present leadership that stands in the way of needed changes. Unfortunately, the number of progressive and bold leadership is dwindling. The only UMNO personality that could be a rallying point is very much undeservingly sidelined. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is treated like a decrepit Quran- you can't throw it away and yet you refuse to use.

UMNO is ruled by entrenched interest whose only mission is to retain power at all costs. Those who subscribed to UMNO's old age customs are inducted into the group and are quickly anointed as standard bearers of the UMNO philosophy. The real interests are always couched in concepts that resonate well with the psychological needs of Malays- security of their interests- religion, political dominance, language, culture etc. By doing that, you have deliberately made UMNO's future as one that is dependent on your ability to stoke the fires of fear and insecurities.

Portraying themselves as uncompromising custodians to what are dear to all Malays, they succeeded in turning UMNO into an organisation that simply refuses to change. I mean, which right thinking Malay would reject and disown their claims on the security of the interests mentioned above? Yet, it is the exploitation of these concepts which has induced resistance to change.

Without a doubt UMNO has been ruled by its template of political customs. Like a society, UMNO is governed by its customs and like a society that is ruled by customs, it remains politically primitive.

Some explanations are in order here. The term 'cake of custom' was coined by the English writer/essayist and intellectual, Walter Bagehot. (Pronounced bad-jit). Those who like to read The Economist magazine will come across this name. Margaret Thatcher is a fan of his writings. The term refers to the paralysing effect of customs, institutions and habits on progress and change. The other notable figure who uses this term is Arnold Toynbee, the great historian. Indeed it is from his A Study of History especially on the topic of challenge and response that I drew inspiration for this short essay.

So we come back to the question as to how can PM Najib break UMNO's cake of custom? He has said, that the age of the government knows best is over. He must now apply the same thinking on the age where UMNO knows best for Malays is also over.

In breaking up the 'cake of custom', PM Najib can no longer rely on the two often cited factors that have been erroneously used to explain progress. They are:-

  1. Race
  2. Environment.

Just as we can no longer defend the thinking that great civilisations depended on the superiority of race as argued by Toynbee, so too at our level, we can no longer expect UMNO to progress by being dependent on this concept of racial dominance and supremacy. Without elaborating further, that can only mean, those fighting for UMNO's progress as being dependent of Malay supremacy cannot be agents of the changes UMNO need. So PM Najib must disown these elements from UMNO.

Second, the view that certain environments, providing easy and comfortable conditions of life must be made available in order to advance is also debunked by Toynbee. Similarly, the view that UMNO through the medium of state apparatuses it controls must paternalistically provide for a comforting environment for Malays to progress must also be treated with much circumspect.

Instead, PM Najib must pose the question of UMNO and Malay progress in terms of challenge and response. He must find out the challenge to UMNO and craft out the appropriate response.

I am afraid, the views on that have to the subject of Part 2.

7 comments:

Anonymous,  23 August 2009 at 12:09  

UMNO need a leader with GUTs, who don't give a damn to personal interest, one who has always the interest of the nation in mind. Look around and you will find in UMNO,the President/Prime Minister is surrounded by people who have'vested interests'.Everyone around him wants to show his supremacy, either through race,religion or the UMNO CULTURE from the old school of thoughts of UMNO.
Leader of UMNO without GUTs can never bring changes to the organisation because he would be worried of his own relevence/existence among the warlords of UMNO who are so used to the old school of thoughts.
The culture and the old school of thoughts of UMNO is going to bury it in yr 2013 elections. What do you expect of leaders who change decisions in minutes and rely too much on the Institutions around it to survive politically. The PDRM boys have their own game to win by giving advice base on personal interest. The writer being from Pekan has seen the wrath of the Institution thus made him a 'one term' YB. What was his fault ? Nothing I can think of.

masliberators 23 August 2009 at 12:33  

“He must have a crack team that's willing to go the distance. Unfortunately if the choice of the Permatang Pasir candidate is any indication, as regards leadership, UMNO is indeed scraping the bottom of the barrel. You come up with hardened sludge.”

Very well said, Dato’. Yes, DS Najib needs to have the right team to do the right things… but the big question is how does he know whether he got the right team?

I am glad to hear from you that DS Najib is doing something with the GLCs and it seems that he has started with Bernama.

Suci Dalam Debu 23 August 2009 at 12:38  

Sir,

I think you missed one very important thing, MANDATE.

Najib, though he is the PM does not have the TRUE mandate to carry out those reforms.The person who could have done it was AB in 2004 but that is history now.

In order for Najib to really do a good clean up job, he needs to secure a very convincing mandate first and then appoint his own cabinet with people whose credibility is never in doubt.

But a bigger question remains in that Najib himself could also be a liability to UMNO & BN because of his image.

Dense 23 August 2009 at 14:00  

The 'age of the government knows best' is NOT over. The problem has been that the government doesnt know what's best for Malaysia, only what's best for themselves. So many of the decisions that Malaysia needs can only be made by an informed government. For example the language of education, the protection of the people and their rights, work place agreements.. and I could go on and on and on

Those are the factors that make up good governance and those are the factors that BN has neglected for generations.

Pandering to the 'top end of town' as Najib has been doing of late wont earn him many votes. But neglecting the rest of the population will sure lose him a lot of votes

Nik 23 August 2009 at 17:06  

Dato,

The population can only gauge the capability of our leaders based on their actions...

I have no prior knowledge of DS Najib's capability as a leader... Despite the background noise on his so called personal baggage, he IS our PM and should be judged on his actions as a leader..

Unfortunately, I believe he has to change his management style. The way in which the revocation of english for maths and science and his handling of the issue of BN's Permatang Pasir candidacy indicates that he has to be directly responsible for important decisions and not depend on incompetent team members.

A house with any colour paint is still a House....Malaysia with or without a 1Malaysia slogan is still Malaysia that we know it....DS Najib has to show that he is rebuilding the house and not just giving it another coat of paint.

Greenbottle 23 August 2009 at 18:07  

i firmly believe malays should think BEYOND umno. period.

break this shackle and dependance on umno and then we'll see real progress to the next level. my long term bet is only PAS will save Islam and the malays in Malaysia.

umno should be completely destroyed or dissolved. their member join PAS.

Anonymous,  23 August 2009 at 18:13  

1Malaysia.
Job done.
2013 sure win.

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