The writest things: A multiracial Umno and the end of BN?

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 4, 2018 - June 10, 2018.
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When Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin told Channel News Asia recently that to be relevant post-GE14, Umno should consider opening its membership to all Malaysians regardless of race or religion, just what did he have in mind?

If he was talking about all non-Malays, then what will happen to the likes of MCA (Chinese), MIC (Indian), Gerakan (multiracial but Chinese-based) and the other non-Malay parties in the BN?

Or was he thinking of Umno absorbing all the components of BN to become one super entity? That would mean the dissolution of the component parties. Are they willing to be dissolved? MCA, MIC and Gerakan all fared badly in the last general election. And political pundits are predicting BN components in Sarawak may be tempted to leave the coalition too.

Just what did Khairy actually assert in the TV interview conducted a week or so after GE14? Well, he remarked that as the Malay votes had shifted away from Umno and BN, it was time for the party to relook its structure, including opening its membership to non-Malays.

“We should seriously consider all options. What model do we want? United Malays National Organisation or United Malaysian National Organisation? What is our DNA and our raison d’etre ? These questions need to be asked. We should not be fixed in what model we take. Everything is on the table,” he was quoted as saying.

True. Questions need to be asked. So I took the liberty to ask acting Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi whether his party should open its doors to non-Malays and if there is a possibility of that happening.

He responded, via text message, “Saya belum bersedia untuk beri komen”, or “I am not ready to make any comment”.

I put the same question to a highly placed Umno leader, who requested not to be named. His answer was interesting, as well as chilling — if you are a BN supporter, that is.

He said there is no need for Umno to do that, adding that “MCA should remain Chinese and MIC Indian. There is a possibility they will not be in BN. Kuburkan BN”, which means bury BN in Malay.

There have been calls among MCA members for the party to leave BN but up till now, there has been no consensus or, rather, a final decision on the matter. MIC and Gerakan have been rather quiet after GE14.

To the highly placed Umno man, “Umno will continue to be relevant and is still the No 1 single party with the highest number of seats.” Obviously, he was referring to the 54 parliamentary seats the party won in the general election, making it the most successful compared with its allies in BN. Such bravado from the Umno man.

This is despite Khairy’s suggestion that “options need to be considered”. Apart from that, he has been tasked by the party’s supreme council to come up with proposals to restructure not only Umno, but BN as well.

The remarks by the Umno insider can be construed as pouring cold water on Khairy’s very first step. In fact, it’s not even a first step — the youth leader was merely throwing out an idea.

But apparently, the Umno man is not alone in saying what he said.

According to a political observer who spoke to a number of Umno leaders and members at various levels, the general feeling is that Umno “should strictly be for Malays only, whatever happens”.

As to how the party would confront the challenges ahead, or, to put it bluntly, how it will survive, the observer was told that it is up to the leadership to look for a strategy.

All that does not surprise Hisomuddin Bakar of research outfit Ilham Centre as “it involves the spirit of the Umno struggle and changing the name Umno itself”.

Umno founder Datuk Onn Jaafar tried to do it in the 1950s but failed. He had wanted to open the doors of Umno to all races and change the party’s name to United Malayan National Organisation to reflect a truly united Malaya.

Umno rejected his proposal and Onn left the party a dejected man and was thrown into the political wilderness.

It was said then that Umno was not ready for such a radical idea. Onn, so it was thought, was going too fast for the good of the Malays and Umno then had its reasons to turn down his idea.

Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, the acting Umno deputy president and Onn’s grandson, has always said he shares his grandfather’s dream.

Sharing is one thing but is he willing to go the extra mile to help turn that dream into reality and go against the tide because it looks like Umno has not changed much as far as its radical stance goes. Opening its doors to all Malaysians regardless of race or religion is still taboo.

For Khairy, there are two options — back to the drawing board to come up with other proposals or pursue the idea of Umno for all, at his own peril.


Mohsin Abdullah is a contributing editor with The Edge who has covered local politics for more than four decades.

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