Home » Editor's Pick for the Week » What is it about UMNO that makes it unable to change?

What is it about UMNO that makes it unable to change?

What is it about Umno that makes it unable to change, even though it knows that it has lost the majority of the popular vote and is in imminent danger of losing GE13? Is it a death wish? Or is it just plain arrogance, knowing or believing that it can still win the elections by foul means more than by fair?

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In an analysis of GE12, ASLI, whose president is none other than Mirzan Mahathir, stated that they “did not and could not then anticipate the equally strong wave of Malay support for the Opposition which resulted in the Opposition gaining 82 seats in Parliament, denying the Barisan Nasional of its two-thirds majority, the first time since the May 1969 General Election”.

They had estimated that the Opposition would win about 50 seats. It was noted that in GE12, the popular votes obtained by Umno (35.5%) and combined PAS/Keadilan (34.8%) was almost equal. What did this mean? Only one thing, and that is that Umno had lost a substantial amount of Malay support.

As the report itself asked “What happened? What caused the massive swing?” It also noted that “There are no safe bastions for Barisan Nasional anymore”.

Umno then had realised that it would have to find out the reasons for the loss of support, presumably so that it could repair the damage in time for GE13. Somehow, that repair has not taken place and arguably, Umno and the Barisan Nasional has continued to lose even more support, to the extent that they are likely to lose GE13 to Pakatan Rakyat.

The much-hyped and hoped for transformation never really got off the ground in spite of all the time, effort and money put into it. Was it because there was no real transformation? The truth is that this was the case. Najib and Umno-BN never really transformed, they only spoke of it and gave it lip-service and in many ways continued with their old ways, ways that had alienated the voters in GE12 and will alienate a far greater number of voters in GE13.

The truth is that as the leopard cannot change its spots, neither could Umno-BN, even if their very political survival depended upon it. But as the leopard is a wild animal, so is Umno. Pakatan Rakyat and the people who support it must not underestimate the depths to which Umno will sink to stay in power.

In spite of the way Umno itself has (ironically) been mistreating the Malays (as well as the whole country), the ASLI report purports that it was totally “unexpected” for Umno to lose in urban and semi-urban Malay seats. They characterised the loss as an “emotional” swing against Umno, ignoring the fact that the Malays themselves (let alone the rest of the country) had and still have real reasons to turn against Umno.

The second part of the ASLI report dealt with “What the Election Results Mean”.

It was clear to them that it was “a seismic shift in Malaysian politics”. The report stated, “The old ways of campaigning may no longer work. Putting fear into voters’ minds did not work. The use of mainstream media to create spin or to demonise the opposition was detested by urban voters and had a counter-effect instead. From feedback, many urban voters were turned off by the spin especially in NST and Star”.

Yet we have seen since then an escalation of the same spin with new variations. Clearly Umno-BN just refused to accept their own observations and conclusions. Is this stupidity or just plain stubbornness, an ingrained egocentric refusal to change, even with a far bigger seismic shift of total defeat staring at them in the face?

This time around, it is even likely that the rural voters will also be turned off as well by the spin of Utusan.

The continued demonisation of the opposition will once again backfire as more Chinese vote for PAS and more Malays vote for DAP. MCA, like Gerakan, will find itself wiped out almost completely while Umno will lose more seats than it wins.

The opposition however must not underestimate the power of the minority Indian vote. If the Indians know better they will also not try to hold the opposition to ransom. Their lot will not get any better under a continuation of Umno-BN.

As the report said, “Makkal Sakhti (People Power), the cry of Hindraf, caused a tidal wave of support from the Indian community towards the opposition. This seismic shift of Indian voters contributed to the defeat of many Barisan Nasional candidates, not only MIC candidates”.
MIC will also face a wipe-out for failing to address the real needs and concerns of Indians.

The report further went on to clearly state:
“The Barisan Nasional’s brand of race-based politics is no longer an attractive proposition to voters. Chinese voters deserted MCA and Gerakan. Indian voters swung away from MIC. Many Malay voters switched to Keadilan, making Keadilan the biggest opposition party with 31 parliament seats.

The Opposition parties won, not on race-based issues but across a range of issues that cut across ethnic lines. The MCA and MIC lost whilst trying to portray themselves as defenders of their race. Umno lost ground to Keadilan even with Anwar calling for an end to NEP. Is this then, a new paradigm for Malaysian politics that Malaysian voters are more taken in by wider national issues such as corruption, crime, cost of living, social justice and human rights which cuts across all ethnic groups rather than narrow ethnic issues that favour any particular race? Even MCA championing the cause of Chinese schools didn’t get much support from the Chinese community. But, PAS delivered votes to DAP and Chinese voters supported both PAS and Keadilan. Should MCA remain purely a Chinese party when it lost more Chinese votes to the DAP or should it become a multi-racial party and widen its appeal to non-Chinese? This has set the stage for a new era of multi-racial politics in Malaysia, perhaps the beginning of a two-party system which is healthy in any democracy”.

In spite of this observation, Umno, MCA and MIC continued harping on their divisive and unhealthy racial and religious politics while hiding behind the ostensibly uniting theme of “1Malaysia”. They exposed their own hypocrisy for all Malaysians to see.

Anger and disgust with Umno-BN still remains

For more than 50 years Malaysians had tolerated this nonsense for the sake of peace, harmony and development. But with Umno-BN’s corruption and mismanagement being exposed by their own doings, it has become clearer to all Malaysians that Umno-BN has stolen the country blind and that Malaysians had been short-changed by a rapacious government that only cared for the benefit of itself and its cronies.

The gap between the rich and poor had grown bigger and the poor were being left further behind, so much so that Sabah and Sarawak, once among the richer regions, found themselves among the poorest (with the highest incidence of poverty together with the other oil-rich states of Kelantan and Terengganu).

All their oil wealth had been siphoned off into Umno-BN Federal government coffers via Petronas, a Federal government-owned company that grew into the 12th most profitable companies in the world.

The report further delved into the reasons for the swing to the opposition and stated:
“The political tsunami was brought about by various factors, foremost of which is the perceived arrogance of power. All racial groups – Malays, Chinese and Indians have the perception that the Barisan Nasional did not hear or listen to the voice of the people. The Barisan Nasional mishandled the Bersih and Hindraf protests. This showed no tolerance for public assemblies and no outlet for grievances which resulted in the aggrieved parties voting against the Barisan Nasional in the ballot boxes. The Barisan Nasional’s over-confidence and poor intelligence failed to identify growing anger and frustration of the people. The Prime Minister’s challenge to Opposition supporters not to demonstrate but to take it to the ballot box also made many fence sitters and opposition sympathizers to vote for the opposition. The Barisan Nasional failed to effectively read the mood on the ground. Many urban voters in particular the fence sitters were put off by the propaganda, spin and one-sided coverage on TV and in NST and Star”.

Yet Umno-BN remained as arrogant, if not became more arrogant than before. They still continued to this day to refuse to hear or listen to the voice of the people. They continued to show no tolerance for public assemblies. And their sick vomit-inducing propaganda has continued to be churned out, this time even via blogs and other social media like Facebook and Twitter. They don’t seem to have learned anything.

The report identified 9 C’s as contributing to the unprecedented swing in support to the opposition in 2008. Nothing has changed. These same 9 C’s and even more will also contribute towards the final defeat of Umno-BN in GE13.

The 9 C’s were (and still are): Change, Crime, Cost of Living, Corruption, Courts, Convergence of Issues, Communications Technology, Credible Leadership and Campaign Strategy.

Change and reform are still on the agenda of the opposition, while Umno-BN’s purported transformation programme has only managed to transform public funds into private pockets.
The people’s anger at the inability of the Umno-BN government to tackle crime effectively has continued to grow, with Umno-BN’s response being to point to manipulated statistics and to try to argue unconvincingly that it is only a perception that crime is up.

The people’s frustration at the ever-increasing cost of living has not been alleviated nor has the actual problem, notwithstanding Umno-BN’s efforts to throw money at them in an inadequate effort purportedly to address the issue but in reality in an attempt to bribe people with their own money to vote for them.

The people’s perception that corruption has worsened since 2008 is not merely a perception but an actual fact. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has done nothing to dispel any doubts that this is so by taking a partisan approach towards tackling corruption and siding with Umno-BN in exonerating it from pre-electoral bribery and corrupt practice offences on flimsy grounds.

The people’s disgust of Umno-BN control of the judiciary has eased somewhat with the retirement of Zaki Tun Azmi, Umno lawyer who became Chief Judge, but major concerns still remain about judicial independence.

The people’s dissatisfaction and anger with Umno-BN still remains because the government has not listened or effectively addressed a whole convergence of issues that arose in GE12. This convergence of issues combined with a whole new convergence of issues will arise again in GE13 to bite Umno-BN in the backside with a vengeance.

The people continue to trust opposition news on the internet more than the Umno-BN-controlled mainstream media. Communications technology has been adapted to well by the opposition. Umno-BN has not been able to respond well enough to counter this, mainly because their inherent bias has caused them to take on the same spin found in the mainstream media. This has continued to turn people off. Umno-BN “cybertroopers” have not been smart or independent enough to break out of their masters’ moulds.

Their heavy-handed spin, distortion, pure fabrication and disinformation tactics in the cyber media have been heavily, if not completely, discounted by the people. Umno-BN has not only lost credibility in the mainstream media but on the internet as well, and they have only themselves to blame for believing their own propaganda and expecting others to do so also.

Notwithstanding their unfair control of the mainstream media, Umno-BN has not shown that it is willing to give alternative views any chance. But in Sarawak, the opposition’s reach into the rural areas has been greatly extended by Radio Free Sarawak (RFS), which is beamed out of London and Sarawak BN has complained bitterly about RFS’s unfair “spin”, ironically failing to see that RFS’s growing popularity in rural Sarawak is due to the BN’s stranglehold on the mainstream media.

Independence only other option for Sarawak and Sabah

In their bizarre attempts to defend Taib Mahmud’s much debunked “politics of development” – in reality his own development and that of his family, cronies and henchmen only, all already wealthy beyond imagination at the expense of the ordinary poor people of Sarawak – Sarawak BN and its component parties have exposed their own shortcomings and betrayal of the people.

The truth be told, notwithstanding their bare-faced lies, they probably feel ashamed of being exposed by RFS and its internet counterpart, Sarawak Report. Nevertheless, they are compelled by their own self-interests and their instincts for self-preservation from the legendary wrath of Taib Mahmud to ignore the legitimate grouses of the people whom they wilfully continue to marginalize, oppress and suppress.

This time around in GE13, they may see an uprising of the rural people of Sarawak (and elsewhere in Sabah and even Malaya) like they have never seen before.

The opposition must continue to provide credible leadership. There is no shortage of capable and qualified potential leaders who must be given some measure of independence in organizing things on the ground and not have to depend on the dictates of the central leadership of Pakatan Rakyat.
Central control, especially in Sarawak and Sabah, must be loosened to enable the local leadership to bloom. This is something that Pakatan Rakyat, especially PKR, is still wrestling with, even at this late stage. PKR’s top leadership must learn to listen to the grassroots leadership of both territories who know better the situation on the ground. Too much interference from the top will upset local sensitivities that Malayans may not even be aware of.

This is a game Umno-BN has learned to play well in Sarawak and Sabah, thereby giving them the misbegotten and unwise feeling that Sarawak and Sabah are their “fixed deposits”. This time around it is highly likely that they will be proven wrong, provided Pakatan Rakyat does not mess it up.

The old school approach of Umno-BN – that of carrot and stick – does not work any more. That Umno-BN persist in adopting such a strategy shows how much out of touch with reality they have become over the years.

Promises and fear didn’t work for Umno-BN in GE12 and it certainly isn’t going to work either in GE13, provided Pakatan Rakyat fine-tunes its own strategies and avoids playing into the hands of Umno-BN or dancing to their tune.

The people too must understand that it would be most expensive to allow themselves to fall prey to an unrepentant Umno-BN’s tricks.

Already Umno-BN through its extravagance, mismanagement, greed, rapaciousness and recklessness has racked up an unprecedented deficit exceeding RM500 billion, or more than RM18,000 for every Malaysian man, woman and child.

A Pakatan Rakyat government will have to deal with this, but it can only do so if it recognizes the damage caused by Umno-BN’s profligation and avoids the same mistakes. Repairing that damage is not going to be easy.

Umnoputeras and their BN co-conspirators have milked this country dry at the expense of their own Malay supporters and ordinary people of the rural heartland. They have shown no remorse nor any change that will benefit the ordinary rural people. Instead they have resorted to violence, intimidation and gangster-like behaviour to prevent the opposition from enlightening the rural people of the real situation.

They have continued to disrupt Pakatan Rakyat activites even in urban areas. They fail to realise that this is not conducive to generating any goodwill for Umno-BN and the voters will be inclined to punish them for this.

The Umno-BN leadership is to be blamed for this and if they allow things to get further out of control. Instead of humility, they have continued to show more arrogance. They did not learn any lesson whatsoever from GE12. It is as if they have not seen the writing on the wall or any of the warning signs.

ASLI did say say very clearly that, “what the 12th General Election provided is a timely wake-up call to all political parties. They need to change, reform and deliver”.

Irrespective of the reasons for failure, this Umno-BN has failed to do, in spite of its transformation programme and 1Malaysia sloganeering. It failed to reinvent itself to stay relevant. It only engaged in tokenism, giving crumbs to the people hungry for real food while gorging itself on the backs of the people’s blood, sweat and tears. It will be consigned to the dustbin of history, as it deserves to be.

Pakatan Rakyat must heed these lessons. They will win GE13 – against all odds of a rigged electoral system only with overwhelming support from the people – with a short leash and limited licence. The people will no longer be tolerant of failures to deliver or misdeliveries.

Promises made must be kept. Sarawak and Sabah certainly deserve better. Autonomy must be restored (in the case of Sarawak after the state government has been changed) as they must not be seen merely as two out of 13 states but full-fledged nations in their own right as part of the Malaysian Federation with Malaya.

Let there be no hard-headedness about this from Malaya, which has already benefitted from almost 40 years of Sarawak and Sabah’s oil resources – time to give back. Otherwise, like Singapore, independence will be the only other option for Sarawak and Sabah.

[Source: A letter to Free Malaysia Today (FMT) sent by The Sarawak Headhunter]

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– DM : An excellent view that wins itself a place in DM’s Editor’s Pick.

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