MySay: Come on Umno, stand up and fight!

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 24, 2018 - December 30, 2018.
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When I wrote “Umno can die but Utusan must live on” (Issue 1241, Nov 19), some of my friends said I was being too harsh in judging Umno. But my counter argument was that if the Malays had to choose one Malay institution that should be preserved for the betterment of the community, then I would opt for Utusan Melayu.

In a freer Malaysia, Utusan Melayu — which publishes the daily Utusan Malaysia and its Sunday edition, Mingguan Malaysia — can serve Malay readers and the Malaysian public well if it is managed professionally and objectively by the editorial team. But first, Umno must give up ownership of the paper before it can get a fair chance to be credible again.

While I will not cry over Umno’s demise, never in my mind did I think I would see it plunge into self-destruct mode at such an alarming pace as if there were no bones left in its body to continue the political fight. Where are all the fighters in Umno? This is a political party that says it has more than three million members and is unquestionably still one of the richest in the country. Following the defeat of Barisan Nasional (BN) in the May 9 general election, it still remained the party with the most number of MPs, at 54.

This is a party with a proud political history and many achievements, including the fight for independence. Its party machinery and grassroots support remain the envy of many of its rivals. So how can its leaders desert the party — the number of its MPs has plunged to 37 — and opt to be spineless political frogs?

You know how low the party has fallen when even PAS vice-president Nik Amar Nik Abdullah can suggest that it be dissolved and its members join the Islamic party, which has only 18 MPs and is supposed to be a junior ally.

DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang described Nik Amar’s call as the supreme insult, which — if it was not felt by Umno’s national leaders, including former ministers or MPs or current parliamentarians — would definitely be felt by the overwhelming majority of state, division and branch leaders and the more than three million party members.

He added: “Never before has any PAS leader been able to deliver such a supreme insult to Umno in the past 67 years since the formation of PAS in 1951, when all PAS could do was to play a very marginal role compared to Umno.”

Umno, why give up so easily? Stand up and have the guts to fight. For one, it is not a spent force and is in better shape than many of its previous coalition partners.

It doesn’t have to look far for lessons in charting its political comeback — to the likes of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party or India’s Congress Party for example— but can get valuable pointers from the PKR experience. After taking its brand of Reformasi to the streets and making headway in the 1999 general election — which indirectly influenced Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to retire as prime minister then — PKR took a heavy beating in the 2004 general election.

BN, riding the popularity of Tun Abdullah Badawi’s feel-good factor, scored a stunning victory and secured a two-thirds majority, taking 198 of the 222 parliamentary seats. PKR was hurled into political oblivion, managing to cling on to only one seat — Permatang Pauh, which was retained by its president Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

With de facto PKR  chief Anwar Ibrahim spending more time in prison than as a free man and Azizah deemed too weak a leader, many political pundits as well Umno leaders predicted that PKR would die a natural death. But despite its sparse political funding, fractured grassroots machinery, intense inter-party rivalry and continuous pressure from the BN government, PKR not only lived on to fight another day but became stronger in facing hardship.

Young leaders such as Nurul Izzah Anwar, Rafizi Ramli and Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, together with veterans like Azmin Ali, Saifuddin Nasution and street fighter Tian Chua, rose through the adversity to fight for a cause they fervently believed in.

Today, 14 years after that staggering setback in 2004, PKR is part of the government and can boast of the highest number of MPs.

So Umno, where is your Azmin, Nurul Izzah, Rafizi and Tian Chua? Again, where are your fighters?

Now that party president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi — the cause of the party’s disarray or a scapegoat, depending on who you ask — has stepped aside and let Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan take over, the remaining chiefs in Umno should rally their members and resuscitate the party.

Come on, Khairy Jamaluddin, Ismail Sabri, Khaled Nordin, Noraini Ahmad and Asyraf Wajdi. Show Malaysians you have fighting spirit. Forget those frogs who left the party and who think they can contribute to Bersatu or Pakatan Harapan.

For the political frogs, the line — dividing who are with us to reform the country and who are with the kleptocrats — was drawn before GE14, not after the victors were known.

New Malaysia voted Umno and BN out. New Malaysia does not want PH to accommodate these political frogs and wants a vibrant parliament where a two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution or pass good laws can be achieved on a bipartisan basis in a mature democracy.

For PH, it has to work towards developing a bipartisan parliament. There is no excuse to welcome even “smarter or cleaner” Umno politicians into the coalition. You don’t need them. If they are truly smarter or cleaner, they should have known what was right or wrong in the 1MDB case, for example, and not colluded with the kleptocrats.

So Umno, show Malaysians what you are made of and that you can become a responsible opposition and revive the party. Then, maybe you can get to rule again one day.

Stand up and fight! Forget about the deserters and rebuild the party. Umno leaders, the choice is yours if you want the party to remain relevant, or become a final chapter in the book on Malaysia’s political history.

Azam Aris is editor-in-chief of The Edge

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