SO, Umno will call all its speakers and tell them what can and cannot be said when bringing up issues at this year’s general assembly. The dos and don’ts, said party secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, will be outlined by the Umno deputy president himself.
What does that tell you?
Perhaps this: Umno speakers will still use the assembly to “bash” those who are not on the same wavelength as them — Malays as well as non-Malays, especially the Chinese.
And this: The Umno leadership is worried that racial and overzealous religious rhetoric will drive the non-Malays, in particular — who are already no big fans of Umno — further away from the party.
As it stands, despite the dos and don’ts, many political observers are saying the Umno general assemblies are very predictable as far as “bashing” goes, notably against those who have opposing views.
Just listen to the things that are already being said by Umno folks. Take a look at the resolutions to be debated at the assembly scheduled for Nov 25 to 29 — on the Sedition Act (read: it must be retained), on vernacular schools (read: they must be abolished) and probably on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (read: LGBT poses a big threat). The recent court decision, they say, will pave the way for same-sex marriage in the country.
Put the two points together and you will most likely get a fiery barrage of words that will hurt many Malaysians, particularly, you know who.
Ironically, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin recently urged Barisan Nasional’s major component parties — MCA, Gerakan and MIC — to “rise to capture non-Malay support”. A mammoth task because, as an MCA leader commented, it was Umno’s “extremism that drove non-Malay support away from BN” in the first place.
And now, there’s more such “extremism” at Umno assemblies, or so it seems.
However, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, Umno’s VP in charge of the assembly resolutions committee, says the party welcomes efforts from the grass roots through resolutions but “we hope whatever issue raised would not be driven by emotions, racial and religious sentiments, which could cause uneasiness to the public”.
The “uneasiness to the public”, as Hishamuddin put it, could very well be read as “hurting the feelings of the Malaysian people, especially the non-Malays”.
Will those chosen to take to the rostrum at the assembly heed his advice? Will they listen to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s dos and don’ts list?
Big questions, and an equally big question is, can Umno afford to hurt the feelings of the non-Malays? Yet again?
Another biggie is, where does all this put party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak?
Says a former Umno strategist: “The SJKC (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina) issue is a challenge for Najib. Can he handle extreme views from within Umno?”
It is a real dilemma, he adds, as “Najib wants to move forward but Umno ultras do not want to”.
The strategist, who was involved in the Umno war room operations for the 13th general election, believes there is no need to bring up the SJKC issue because Najib sent a strong signal at the MCA annual general meeting in October — the all-too-familiar question of “what more do these ultras want?”
In his speech at the AGM, Najib urged students of vernacular schools to speak proper Bahasa Malaysia. But he also gave the assurance that the Federal Constitution upholds vernacular schools. Perhaps that got the Umno ultras going.
Speaking in Sabah a few days ago, the Umno president said the Chinese must be grateful to Umno for allowing vernacular schools to continue, presenting a neither here nor there situation, one that is probably seen by the ultras in Umno as an invitation to push their anti-vernacular school rhetoric through at the assembly.
As for the Sedition Act, the former Umno strategist believes Najib wants it repealed and should be allowed to do so. “Political risk, should there be any, should be his responsibility. Umno jangan takut pada baying-bayang sendiri,” he comments.
He stresses that Umno should listen to Najib and let him lead with ease.
Still, Najib himself seems rather unsure about going ahead with his earlier intention of repealing the Sedition Act, making contradictory statements that suggest back-pedalling. This amid loud calls within Umno and its allies in the form of Malay NGOs that the Act must be retained. And just as loud is the call from a substantial number of Malaysians that Najib abolish the Act, as he promised.
Most importantly, what will happen after the assembly? Who will Najib listen to? What will he do?
Back to the special briefing for the perhimpuna speakers. The secretary-general said it was not the party’s intention to restrict its speakers on what they want to talk about, but how they do it. What they say can be differently interpreted, even misinterpreted.
Saying something hurtful can, and will surely, be claimed (by the one uttering it, of course) as a matter of delivery or style.
What then? Can Umno act against such a speaker? Will it?
Mohsin Abdullah is news producer and columnist at The Edge
This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 24 - 30, 2014.