The Strengths and Weaknesses of UMNO : A Self Neutralization of Its Power

The inability to understand the need to step aside is further reinforced by a large group of ministers or political secretaries who stand to lose everything when the Prime Minister caves in to public pressure. Backed by the largest cabinet in the world on a per capita basis—-with scores of deputy ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and the Prime Minister’s own forty odd political secretaries—-Najib is practically walled from the clamor of the people.

By Pan Jing Ming

UMNO has remained in power for well over sixty years. But with six prime ministers to date, the source of UMNO’s strength has been its very small and privileged inner circle, literally producing a country of Lenin-like van guards.

Vanguards don’t see any flaws in themselves, since they are either protecting the mythical ideals, or, seeking a longer tenure to promote them. This creates a dynamic of self perpetuation: they lead because the nation with which they are leading has not quite arrived yet, therefore, they must continue to lead.

But politics, when mapped in a linear manner, produces a circular logic. A must be there to take a country to reach B, and B must always listen to A. Such a tautology ie a circuitous route tends to obscure the leaders ability to understand that they have overstayed their welcome. Tun Dr Mahathir faced it from 1998 onwards, leading to calls for “Reformasi,” as much as what Prime Minister Najib Razak is now confronting.

The inability to understand the need to step aside is further reinforced by a large group of ministers or political secretaries who stand to lose everything when the Prime Minister caves in to public pressure. Backed by the largest cabinet in the world on a per capita basis—-with scores of deputy ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and the Prime Minister’s own forty odd political secretaries—-Najib is practically walled from the clamor of the people.

When Najib can neither see nor sense the seething anger of the people, with six out of ten voters disagreeing with what Najib has done over the last nine years, according to the latest polling from Merdeka Center, his view of politics is likely to be blinkered, and blind sided.

Take his interview with the public in a Facebook live session last month. Instead of connecting with the plight of the laity at large, Najib averred that he consumed only Quinoa (pronounced kee-wah). Quinoa, is a top of the grade grain grown atsix thousand feet above sea level in Peru and Bolivia, and costs 25 times more than the average rice.

When there was an uproar, Najib back pedalled on his claim that he ate Quinoa solely. Rather, he mixed his daily diet with Coconut Milk Rice too, and even that due to doctor’s advice. But by then the damage was done, especially given the fact that Quinoa was imported into Malaysia exclusively by one of his sons’ companies.

A prime minister who behaves like a vanguard will, time and again, feel more self entitled than the others, especially one with the pedigree of Najib, where his father Tun Razak was a former Prime Minister, while Tun Hussein Onn, his uncle, was yet another. (If anything, the tenure of Tun Dr Mahathir, a commoner, seems like an aberration between 1981-2003.)

Stepping down is not merely an end point of his political career, but the termination of the dynastic reign of the Razak and Onn family that began in 1946. When Najib is advised by his inner circle, including Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, who is his younger cousin, to hang on with all tenacity, the meaning of demoracy is lost.

Instead of a system of democratic representation where the incumbents must face the risk of actual defeat—–as any office bearers must—-Najib has defined democracy as a series of steps he is allowed under the law to undertake to keep the power wielders from being ever defeated at all. Thus, malapportionment and overly large parliamentary constituencies are legislated to reduce the number of marginal seats under which Barisan National and UMNO are now holding. From 44 marginal seats, Barisan National appears to have amended these marginal seats by a third of the national total of 222 seats. That’s close to 70 seats which UMNO and Barisan National are no longer at risk of losing even before the first bell is rung.

Conclusion:

The unfortunate effect of sheer electoralism, without genuine democracy that can engender the transition of power, is the ballooning public anger, and ever increasing contempt. In time, the whole society is politicised to feel nothing but anger, which is precisely what the opposition counts on, to unseat the goverment.

Indeed, the net effect of Najib in UMNO is therefore self neutralization. With each passing moment, or, day, more will demand for his resignation, even if he insists he must stay on.

But as can be seen from the case of Jacob Zuma in South Africa, indeed, even Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, such tenacious hold on power is tenous at best, and useless at worst; since the party is not there to support the leader, if at all. And, if UMNO and Barisan National cannot produce a charismatic leader, they will settle for a bureaucratic technocrat instead. But the latter can give the aura of change without actually effecting it, thus, pushing Malaysia into a stasis.