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The right against the middle

Posted: 17 Jun 2013 11:15 PM PDT

Hence we are going to see a battle to decide not only the new Umno leadership but the direction Umno is to take over these next four or five years leading to the 14th General Election. Those who feel that Umno needs to appeal to the middle ground will back Najib. Those who feel that Najib has 'sold out' to the non-Malays will oppose him.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is attempting to keep the divide within Umno under wraps with his call that the top two posts in the party not be contested, said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.

He said that after Barisan Nasional's poor performance in the general election, Umno is undergoing a period of uncertainty and is currently mulling two options.

The options are whether to become more Malay-centric in its approach or to convert BN into a single party for all races.

"Mahathir is trying to keep the fight between the respective factions in support of either options within Umno's walls."

"If there is contest for the top posts, the battle may come out in the open and the party will become a target for its opponents," said Khoo.

Yesterday, Mahathir backed the growing calls within Umno circles to leave Najib Tun Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin to remain party president and deputy president respectively.

He said the contest for the top two positions would split Umno, like what happened in 1987, when then Umno vice-president Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Mahathir for the presidency.

"Going by the democratic practice, we should have contests but Malaysians do not really understand the practice."

"If they lose, they will quit the party and set up another, causing the Malays and Umno to split further, " Mahathir was reported as saying.

Khoo said that at the end of the day, it did not matter who was helming Umno as the real decision makers in the party would be its supreme council members.

"The real focus should be on its supreme council as they will decide on which direction the party president will have to take."

"So even if Najib wants to push forward his liberal ideas, his fate will be determined by the supreme council," he said.

However as a democratic party, Khoo said Umno members should allow contest for all posts in the party.

"And Umno will see 150,000 of its delegates participating in the party election this time around," he added.

Nottingham Malaysia University analyst Zaharom Nain said that it did not matter whether Najib or Muhyiddin led Umno as the right wing faction in the party is getting stronger.

"Would it really make much of a difference if it is Najib or Muhyiddin? Push comes to shove, aren't they but mirror images of one other?"

"Indeed, bottom line is that the right-wing faction in Umno is getting stronger and both leaders are invariably constrained by this," said Zaharom.



Students of history will know that the tussle between King Henry VIII and Rome was more than just about getting the Pope's permission to divorce his Queen. That is the more popular notion, of course, because that sounds more 'romantic'. But there are other more crucial factors to be considered in the reason behind England's break from Rome.

The church throughout Europe was very rich. The church owned 20% of the land and the noblemen another 20%. And the serfs paid the church (and the nobles) heavy taxes to work this land -- money that the church sent to Rome. Hence Rome was a source of 'capital flight' that for centuries had been 'stealing' the wealth of England.

Europe, England included, was perpetually involved in wars and this drained the treasury. It came to a stage that the state coffers had dried up and the only way the Crown could get its hands on more money was to raise taxes (which means, of course, tax the nobles) or confiscate the church's property (which was exempted from taxes) and stop the outflow of wealth to Rome.

Henry VIII decided on the latter and overnight the King of England became the richest monarch in Europe (after hovering on the verge of bankruptcy). He, of course, had to burn the Catholic churches and kill all the Catholic priests in the process.

King Charles I, about 100 years later, faced the same financial crisis that Henry VIII faced -- and for the same reason as well, wars. But there were no church properties to confiscate so be raised taxes (meaning the nobles now had to pay higher taxes).

This upset the nobles who protested (together with the rakyat, who the nobles transferred the increased taxes to) and this caused a split between the pro-monarchs and the anti-monarchs. Not long after that the English Civil War broke out and England became a Republic after the execution of the King.

Just like in the case of Henry VIII, the popular notion is that Charles and Parliament disagreed on issues involving Christianity. Hence it was a 'Sunni-Shia' conflict of sorts. However, money was very much the factor in all this with religion being the excuse to go to war.

And so on and so forth for all the other conflicts and revolutions throughout Europe as well over 100 years from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. At the end of the day, money was always the reason to go to war and to kill each other -- with other factors being cited as the more 'noble' reason.

The point to all these stories is that what you see is not always what you get. You think you know the reason for what happened -- or for what is going on -- but you never really know what is 'behind the scenes'.

So, what do you understand about what is currently going on in Umno? Is this about the recent general election on 5th May 2013? Is this about how poorly Najib Tun Razak performed compared to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 8th March 2008?

Actually, Umno is not concerned about the results of the recent general election -- or at least they are not too concerned. They already knew back in 2012 that the best-case scenario was a win of 145 Parliament seats and the worst-case scenario was only 130 seats. Hence 133 seats is still within the 'boundary' although not as good as the 140 seats in 2008. And they won the states they expected to win and lost the states they expected to lose. So no big deal there as well.

So what is really going on in Umno then if this is not an aftershock to the 5th May 2013 general election? After all, Umno did increase its seats to 88 from just 79 in 2008. So it actually performed better by winning an additional nine seats.

What is going on in Umno is a power struggle between the rightists and the centrists. Umno is finally trying to decide whether it will move in the direction that Najib would like to bring it -- that is, to be more liberal -- or to move more towards the right -- that is, to be more Malay-centric and nationalistic.

Najib represents the face of liberal Umno. And the ultra-Malays do not like that. These people feel that Najib wasted his time in trying too hard to become a Prime Minister for all Malaysians when the non-Malays want Umno dead anyway. And the voting pattern of the non-Malays, in particular the Chinese, in the recent general election proved that Najib was barking up the wrong tree.

These people are of the opinion that Najib should have focused on the Malays and should have spent more resources on the Malays rather than try to woo the non-Malays. And the voting pattern proved that there is no way Umno can woo the non-Malays, not even with money, budgets and promises of this, that and the other.

Even the Umno 'running dogs' such as MCA, MIC, Gerakan, PPP, etc., which used to be able to get a reasonable level of non-Malay support in the past, can no longer do so. And PSY and his 'Gangnam Style' could not do it as well.

The 5th May 2013 'wakeup call' did wake Umno up. It is not that it did not. In fact, Umno already 'woke up' back in March 2008. It is just that they took a long time to stir out of bed after waking up. But now Umno has fully woken up to the fact that it needs to get its house in order.

But what do we mean by 'getting its house in order'? Your interpretation of what that means may not be quite the same as Umno's interpretation. To me, getting your house in order means more liberalism and democracy so that you can appeal to the 'middle ground'. To the rightists in Umno, 'getting its house in order' would mean being more Malay-centric and nationalistic so that you can appeal to the rural and nationalist Malays.

Hence we are going to see a battle to decide not only the new Umno leadership but the direction Umno is to take over these next four or five years leading to the 14th General Election. Those who feel that Umno needs to appeal to the middle ground will back Najib. Those who feel that Najib has 'sold out' to the non-Malays will oppose him.

It does not matter whether Najib is going to be challenged or not in the party's general assembly. Pak Lah was not challenged either. Pak Lah was not ousted during the general assembly. He was ousted after that. And that too will be when Najib is going to be ousted if he is ousted -- after the general assembly.

And if Najib is ousted that is going to mean only one thing -- and that is Umno is moving to the right and the liberals in Umno will no longer have a voice. And that can only bring Malaysia deeper into racial politics at the risk of exploding some time in the future to fulfill Lim Kit Siang's prophecy of a time bomb ticking away in Malaysia.



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