Hornbill Unleashed

December 16, 2009

The new Umno dilemma

Kaypo Anak Sarawak is a Columnist  of  Hermit Hornbill at The Borneo Post Online , His article is  published  in The Borneo Post every Sunday. (Used by permission of the Author )

ONE gets the feeling that the political ground in Malaysian national politics is going through a quiet but radical and fundamental shift; there is now a serious challenge to the many assumptions of the politics of race by an increasing number of citizens of all races.

Ever since the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963, observers and academics who have made their career by studying and writing books on Malaysian politics have always asserted their assumption that politics in Malaysia was forever condemned to be communal.

Even among voters, the great majority of them had long subscribed to the appeal of communal political parties for racial unity for a long time past. For many decades now, they responded to the call to be united under a single-race party so as to give the party greater negotiating leverage within the ruling Barisan Nasional Coalition.

The primordial emotive and visceral power of racial slogans has allowed Umno, MCA, and MIC a gridlock on political power in West Malaysia, and therefore the nation.

Then something previously unthinkable happened; 60 years after independence, voters were voting across racial and religious lines in droves and in silent unison in the general election last year, and the invincible BN lost power in five states and their two-third majority in Parliament.

The series of dramatic events and by-elections after the general election proved that this shift of voter-sentiment has not been a fluke. All of a sudden, the grand narrative of the politics of race is no longer politically correct.

The latest controversy over the civic course run by the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) — a body under the Prime Minister’s Department — is a perfect example in point.

It started when a Malay Menteri Besar of a Malay state, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim of Selangor, openly forbade the civil servants within his state jurisdiction and students in his state educational institutions to attend the BTN course, on the grounds that the course is divisive and too racial in nature.

Immediately, a flood of horror stories surged through the media, especially on blogs and Internet news portals, as former participants of past BTN courses retold how they were taught to vilify opponents of the ruling parties — including Tengku Razali Hamzah when he was in the Semangat 46 — as well as accepting the ideology of Malay Dominance.

The response from Umno leading lights is extremely confusing and self-contradictory, to say the least.

The immediate reaction from the Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was that there is nothing wrong with the BTN courses, while the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz announced the cabinet decision that the BTN course would be revamped to reflect the 1Malaysia spirit touted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

As if the Umno water was not murky enough, the vocal and acerbic former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad came out in defence of the BTN, drawing an angry response from Nazri that Tun Mahathir is “a bloody racist” and the “father of racism”.

This started a spat of name calling between the two, with Tun Dr Mahathir describing Umno as a ‘racist’ party, while Nazri calling it “the most stupid statement I have heard in my life”.

This sort of open and acrimonious rift between the leading Umno luminaries was quite unheard of in the past, and has now become common public debacle, indicating some confusion and disagreement among Umno top leaders as regards to the future political direction for Umno to take in these uncertain times of transition.

Nazri is one of those younger generation of Umno leaders who do not have the Umno old timers’ emotional baggage and addiction to the Malay nationalist narrative so typified by Tun Dr Mahathir book, ‘The Malay Dilemma’. He is probably aware of the radical shift among the Malay grassroots, as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and PAS gain new support among rural and urban Malay votes.

As a lawyer, Nazri is also probably more sympathetic to such democratic concepts as human rights and rule of law.

The sort of racially-tinged messages taught in BTN courses, as revealed by former participants of those courses, go against modern concepts of human rights and rule of law.

Apart from the dissenting voice of Tengku Razaleigh, who opined that the BTN courses should be scrapped altogether, none of Nazri’s Umno cabinet colleagues have come to his support.

In contrast, there seems to be more Umno top leaders who opt for the continuation of the old BTN business as usual.

Meanwhile, the Umno-owned Malay language daily Utusan Malaysia continues to churn out highly inflammatory articles and editorials, taking swipes at opposition figures with racially stereotypic statements.

It would appear as if Umno has given up any chance of resurgence and revival on the part of MCA, MIC, and Gerakan in West Malaysia, and has taken a deliberate move to withdraw into its conservative nationalist past. This option was discussed by a meeting of Umno heads of divisions, though no definitive decisions were arrived at.

When Umno is under siege from all sides, with their rule in Kuala Lumpur guaranteed only by their BN fixed deposit in Sarawak and Sabah only, it is tempting for them to withdraw into the comfort zone of their nationalist past.

But the Malay world in Peninsular Malaysia has changed irreversibly.

Many members of the Malay working and middle class are financially independent from the institutions of state.

Some may have harboured the perception that all that affirmative programmes are but excuses for crony capitalism to thrive at the expense of the national coffers and real people-friendly development programmes.

Judging from the fierce competition for support of the Malay voters between Umno, PKR, and PAS, the power of the myth of Malay unity may have been debunked forever.

After 60 years of independence, rapid socioeconomic development, mass education right up to the university level, an exodus of rural urban drift, and the emergence of a vibrant urban Malay middle class, the Malay community has been transformed beyond recognition.

The surge of Internet communication in the last decade or so has also created the space for new Malay consciousness to explore their ethnic and religious identity, their fulfilment in their roles as individuals, and the complexity and sensitivity of their life was never dreamt of by their forebears.

Meanwhile, they share the same challenges with their Chinese and Indian counterparts in the urban habitat.

Everyday, they have to struggle through the bumper-to-bumper monster traffic jam, face the same possibility of being mugged by snatch thieves, grind their teeth at the spiralling prices of daily necessities at the same supermarkets, and worry about their children’s higher education some time down the lane.

In fact, these New Malays are more likely to share the sentiments of moral outrage with their urban Chinese and Indian counterparts as they read daily newspapers and net news portals on corruption in high places, among the institutions of state which are meant to promote the Umno idea of Malay dominance in all things Malaysian.

In short, the Malay community in West Malaysia is now perched at a confused crossroad in more ways than one, and Umno does not seem wary of it, as is evidenced by their insistence on the continuation of the BTN courses.

In the end, as any ethnic community evolves and moves forward, many solutions to the old problems create new problems of their own.

Any good management gurus will tell you that you have to constantly be on your toes to anticipate these new problems and be innovative to devise solutions for them even long before they appear.

Change is the only law in this fast changing world. Those who are not able to anticipate change, adapt to change, and even manage the pace and tone of change, will be left behind in the dustbin of history.

Even on the small issue of the BTN courses, Umno has proven once again they are in denial mode in their oblivion to the drastic change to the political climate in Malaysia.

The Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is now busy overseas on his many foreign sojourns.

Even a small issue like the BTN affair is a Herculean task waiting for his immediate attention. He has coined the new slogan of 1Malaysia, against which the BTN courses run contradictory.

How will he decide as the Umno and BN supremo? It may be the severest test of his Umno leadership yet!

(The writer can be reached at bapakmiki@yahoo.com)


  1. Well, if a person is afflicted with cancer you have to go for surgery, radiotherapy etc to cure.
    Can you just change to fresh clothing to cover up and say all is well? Cancer has disappeared?

    The govt is built on racism and if not for 2008 GE they would have remained so. The 1Malaysia face is just to win over non-malays for their votes nothing more. This is because the rot is from the bottom and the benevolent 1Malaysia face is just change of new clothes that cannot fully cover the vile amd racism sprouting underneath that has taken root too deeply.

    Of course some people might still think all is well for a terminally diseased person because all looks well from the outside. Just my opinion.

    Comment by babicina — February 23, 2010 @ 12:48 PM | Reply

  2. […] The new Umno dilemma Filed under: Human rights, Politics — hornbillunleashed @ 12:01 AM Tags: Anak Sarawak Bangsa Malaysia, Barisan Nasional, Malaysia Politics, Sarawak, Sarawak politics, Save Sarawak, Sim Kwang Yang, Sky, UMNO […]

    Pingback by Post from Hornbill Unleashed « Dewan Pemuda PAS Sarawak — December 17, 2009 @ 2:49 PM | Reply

  3. We might have to look at a myriad of reasons for the Malay dilemma or now perhaps we should think of a Malaysian dilemma.

    The strategist, K Ohmae, who Mahathir must have employed in some capacity believes that at the right period or time, nation-states will be meaningless and economic considerations should overwhelm the political. Interestingly, we are now in some kind of “dilemma” – the market has been proven wrong!

    Many more things can go wrong and truth is what we make of it in a particular epoch or period of time. To be blunt, the Bible and the Koran told us that Adam and Eve were thrown out of Heaven because they ate the forbidden apple. Post modern explanation for the phenomenon is probably that Bible and Koran writers couldn’t bring themselves to say that God was “angry” because He saw Adam having sex with Eve. And why not? They were naked all the time!

    There should never have been such ideas as a dilemma. There is a bending of certain ideas, beliefs and facts, like planned mind-bending? Don’t be so concerned. The Bible and Koran writers did the same, too!

    The “Malay dilemma” was only an essay by Mahathir Mohammad. For God’s sake, why do we have to believe everything we hear or read?

    The problem facing us today primarily must be wealth although with the disputed viral epidemic of AH1N1 as “natural” our health doesn’t have triple A ratings. And it couldn’t have been different during the Sultanate of Malacca golden age when we could just raid our neighbors and take their women away. So they ordered from China some expatriates by the name of Hang Tuah and a whole division of security personnels kept Malacca safe. Well, if Malacca had prospered many more business men from China must have brought in FDIs then as they still do now. Less perhaps, now.

    With all the prosperity, surely we must have advanced the arts such as poetry and prose. And Wallah! We have the Malay Annals and the story of a great Malay Warrior or Hang Tuah. Our history laurette Khoo Khay Khim hasn’t told us much beyond what he has already taught all those for several decades. He probably is now busy writing the approved version of history being a member of the MACC governing board.

    When the Brits came and went, they did what everybody else had done – robbed the country and fought and lost a war against others, the Japs who came for the same thing – wealth via markets for raw resources and markets for built-up of same. The Germans were no different.

    So how was that a Malay dilemma? When having learnt what poverty and little knowledge, we didn’t spend and manage the country for the very thing that was supposed to be important – human capital? The wealthy Chinese brought their FDI also brought a lot of other things, too. The traditional expatriate service of people like Hang Tuah. Some people say, Miri has a lot of top-notch service providers of similar calibre. And of course all the other main cities in Malaysia have the same. We really should get hefty discounts from PDRM!

    The robber Brits who came and went knew one thing – if you have wealth, you better protect it. The wealthy Chinese knew the same thing. There was a difference in opinion of what protection was. The Brits sold us education, the biggest investment they made. Of course you and I paid for it. Where do you think all the gold in Bau and bauxite in Sematan went to? And the oil? Abang Jo frothed at the mouth and said knowledge was wealth. He is right! He is wealthy and he knows it. So does Taib. George Chan and Jabu still have to ensure the arts and culture flourish order to protect their wealth. Plus of course, paramount security!

    On Merdeka, in order to gain more wealth, the consortium of the same people, the employer and employee for secrity services much like the Malacca arrangement prospered. Who cares what you call water as long as you can drink it? Merdeka, democracy, theocracy?

    By now, shouldn’t we all know, it’s plain lunacy?

    Frankly, I am not sure now if God agrees with the Bible and Koran writers. If anyone is smarter than us, it must be God! How could He not know what was happening in His own backyard, Heaven? Of course He did!

    So there goes your Mahathir essay, the Malay or Malaysian Dilemma old or new!

    BTW, the BTN issue is not “small”! It’s as big as the Surau or Church issue or the Royalty issue!

    Comment by Bangau — December 17, 2009 @ 1:31 AM | Reply

  4. While the PM crows about Sarawak as the realisation of 1Malaysia, the government is quietly conducting BTN (civic) courses in Sarawak too. I know of a couple of Sarawak students coming out shell-shocked from BTN courses. They must be stopped and stopped immediately in the Land of Hornbills.

    The conflicting reactions from UMNO leadership on the BTN issue and the related Ketuanan Melayu, points to an underlying policy discord in UMNO, not to mention among BN component parties, about the 1Malaysia mantra. You open the lid on 1Malaysia and lo ! a can of putrid worms!

    BTN if not dismantled soonest, will pronounce an early death sentence on 1Malaysia. Will BTN dismantled critically harm UMNO’s guiding concepts? A schizoid nightmare for umno and PM indeed.

    Comment by francis ngu — December 16, 2009 @ 11:08 PM | Reply

  5. […] not you who gets politically assasinated then it must be someone else. There is no different from what has happened in UMNO still going on in MCA,SUPP and soon to be SPDP. PKR is no different and its a political party and […]

    Pingback by PKR..Atishoo Atishoo”Conspicuously Missing” « Audie61’s Weblog — December 16, 2009 @ 12:51 PM | Reply

  6. Dear Mr Sim

    If I may post another message:

    This is a good website on the pseudo-scientific concept of “race”


    Comment by Phua Kai Lit — December 16, 2009 @ 9:08 AM | Reply

  7. Dear Mr Sim

    Social science thinkers are chipping away at the outdated concept of “race”
    (a concept that arose and gained strength with the rise of European imperialism and the accompanying need to rationalise enslavement, conquest and exploitation of non-white peoples).

    Likewise, the evidence from genetic research shows that we are all related genetically and that there is only one species of hominids called Homo sapiens alive today.

    “Race” is a social construction and should be replaced with the term “ethnic group” instead. Clear evidence on race as a “social construction” – in Malaysia, we have very Indian-looking people who claim that they are Malays (such as the Zambry guy in Perak; plus the Indian Muslims in the UMNO leadership who champion radical versions of Malay nationalism; one of our former Prime Ministers who downplays the Indian side of his heritage).

    In South Africa, we have the “Coloureds” but no such equivalent “race” in the USA where the “one drop” rule says that you are a “black” if you have one drop of “black” blood in you (so Obama is a “black” although his mother is white and Colin Powell is a “black” although he looks very Caucasian).

    Even in Nazi Germany — the most notorious abuser of the pseudo-scientific concept of “race” — where people of a particular religious faith were reclassified as a “race”, they had trouble determining who is and who is not a “Jew”. So, they had to measure people’s noses, shape of head etc. to determine this and flush out the “Jews”!

    Comment by Phua Kai Lit — December 16, 2009 @ 9:03 AM | Reply

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