UMNO Shoots Itself In The Foot Over
The Prime Minister and UMNO president, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, goes to Sabah this week to preside over the demise of a National Front member, Akar, and accept its members into UMNO. He then makes a shattering announcement that all Chinese in Sabah would be welcome into UMNO without reservation. The non-Malays throughout the country see that as a step forward towards a single party of all the races. The ebullient MIC president, Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu, melodramatically announces he would dissolve his party and its members asked to join UMNO. Hopes were raised amongst the non-Malay communities. But no Malay of any consequence rose in support.
Dr Mahathir, true to form, changes tack. It is not all Chinese in Sabah, but Akar members only. Besides, intermarriage between Chinese and the natives had created a bumiputra group called the Sinos. He wriggles his way out of his embarassment. He did not say anything dramatic when he says the Sinos can join UMNO: they always could. USNO, before it merged with UMNO, had Chinese members who became UMNO members after the merger. The native rules allows any resident, and this is also in Sarawak, with native blood is a native. This is not accepted in the peninsula: native groups, like the Portuguese community in Malacca and the Thai community in northern Malaysia, are only now being reluctantly considered bumiputras. But Dr Mahathir made a major political faux pas. He said UMNO accepting Chinese as members in Sabah could be a prelude to accepting them and other minority races in the peninsula into its fold. That created a political storm in UMNO. The transport minister, Dato' Seri Ling Lion Sik rushes in for the kill: the Chinese looked to the MCA as their first choice to protect their future.
This shooting itself in the foot is not new. It does not matter what the issue or problem is. First an all-encompassing statement is made. Then it is refined in public, downgrading its scope and import, and giving an impression to the world outside of a government, party and leader who have lost their marbles. Dr Mahathir apologises for not being clear about who could join. But he splits hairs. The Sinos, in Sabah and Sarawak, can join bumiputra parties and UMNO in Sabah. He cannot be too finicky about who can join UMNO: the Malay base in Sabah and Sarawak is too small for UMNO to survive as a Malay party; he can rope in the bumiputra tribes in Sabah, but with this unwritten insistence that only a Muslim can head UMNO does restrict the racial pool from which it must recruit its members. UMNO to survive must challenge the Kadazandusun parties, and that is an uphill task.
But he had to make that first statement. UMNO is tossed and buffetted by the political re-orientation of the Malays. They must decide if they must continue to organise themselves as a racial or multiracial party: whether it should go the way of PAS, with its emphasis on race and religion, or as the Parti Keadilan Negara (Keadilan) does in the mould of UMNO first president, Dato' Sir Onn Jaffar's vision of a multiracial party. That vision was way ahead of its times, but it is not any more. UMNO must reorganise itself in the mould of either Keadilan's multiracial politics or PAS' racial and religious worldview. It would seem the good doctor decided upon the multiracial approach, but he could not get UMNO to go along. That all who backed the Dr Mahathir's call are non-Malays proves the divide in his own ranks.
UMNO's the unpalatable decision is if it should outdo PAS or Keadilan to be politically relevant. As usual, there is no serious thinking about it. The party heads towards a obscurantist future, and tries to outdo PAS in its Islamic proselytisation. It believes it must first seduce PAS into its fold and then beat Keadilan with it. It is Keadilan, with its Onn Jaffar vision of a multiracial party under Malay leadership, that frightens UMNO. Which is why its leaders are targetted for special treatment: eight of the ten arrested recently under the Internal Security Act are from Keadilan. Dato' Sir Onn's Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), which he formed after he walked out of UMNO, failed because he could not attract Malays into his fold. Fifty years on, Keadilan does not face that impediment. The DAP accuses it of taking Chinese members from its members.
The Prime Minister's confusion reflects his own tenuous hold on power. He tries to carve a new role for himself, but he finds that all but impossible. The unresolved issues of his two decades in office now loom large before him as his hold on power becomes tenuous by the day. It is no more a secret that he and his finance minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, head for a clash that can shake UMNO to its foundations. The Malay cultural ground moves away from UMNO and its leader, and is prepared to support whoever emerges the winner. The longer UMNO delays resolving the hurt done to its former deputy president, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the quicker would be its irrelevance in national politics. Dr Mahathir makes statements in panic and under pressure and hope this would attract the ground he lost when Dato' Seri Anwar was arrested, and which revealed UMNO's frightening loss of the Malay ground. Bringing Chinese into UMNO Sabah is yet another indication of that loss.
"Maka setelah mereka berlaku sombong, takbur (tidak mengambil indah) kepada apa yang dilarang, Kami katakan kepada mereka: "Jadilah kamu kera yang hina!!" - 166 Surah Al-A'raaf