January 22, 2009
"The party has now to be more open and allow its young members to move to the fore considering that it was young voters who made the difference in Kuala Terengganu."
So, it seems that Umno has lost its “wow” factor, according to party vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
I don’t think so. For one thing, for the past 10 months I have been saying to myself, “Wow! It still hasn’t learnt the lessons of March 8!”The result of the Kuala Terengganu (KT) by-election, and more importantly the reaction of some of the top Umno leaders after the defeat, also left me saying “Wow!”
“Wow” because I did not think it would lose. KT was different from Permatang Pauh (PP). In PP, the people had already chosen PKR, and Datin Seri Wan Azizah had won with a huge majority.
Furthermore the PKR candidate for that by-election was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the constituents’ old MP and favourite son.
In KT, Umno had won in March. Sure, it was by a slim majority (just over 600 votes), but basically it was the incumbent party and it had the entire Barisan Nasional machinery at its disposal for this campaign.
What with all the goodies that the people of KT would be presented with, plus the postal votes, it seemed unlikely Umno would lose that seat. Boy, was I wrong.
The swing came to over 3,000 votes, which means Umno really should be very concerned.
I am sure they are, but when t he leadership makes statements saying this was not a reflection of people’s loss of faith in Barisan Nasional, well, again I had to say “Wow!”
How can it not be a statement against the ruling party and the present government? If it were a state seat in question, perhaps the personality of the candidates, their appreciation of local issues, would be the primary factor.
But this election was for a Member of Parliament. It was about having a voice in Parliament, which is situated in Kuala Lumpur.
I don’t think the good people of KT are so simple-minded that they did not realise the implication of their vote.
The only thing that can help Umno now is to change fundamentally, and I wonder if that is a possibility. Umno was traditionally a party of teachers. I have a soft spot for teachers, so perhaps I am biased, but in the decades before and after Merdeka, teachers had a lot of clout.
They were respected and supported not because they were wealthy but because they were knowledgeable and educated.
That is why up until fairly recently, the education portfolio was considered so vital and a stepping stone towards the premiership. Work with the educationists and you had your grassroots support for the job of Prime Minister.
Now Umno has become a party of businessmen. The vast majority of division heads are businessmen.
That cherished value of knowledge and education has been replaced with wealth and the ability to obtain contracts.
This means there is no strong foundation of principle (whether I agree with the principle or not is not the point here) and idealism.
Being part of Umno becomes like being part of a business opportunity.
This has the further effect of making the holding on to such posts an economic consideration. This in turn means that challengers will not be viewed favourably.
Therein lies the problem. Maybe there are new Umno members who can climb the ranks and provide them with that “wow” factor. But they will be inhibited by their youth and their lack of wealth.
Idealism and new ideas will be seen as a threat by the old guard who would want to maintain their lucrative status quo.
And when I talk about the young, I don’t mean the rabble-rousing Mat Rempit stylings of Umno Youth. I mean new blood with fresh idealism and ideas, those who are more in touch with the needs and the demands of Malaysians in the 21st Century.
And perhaps those who are not beholden to racist ideas for their political collateral.
Considering that political analysts have pointed out that the swing in KT was due primarily to young voters, Umno has now to be more open and allow its young members to move to the fore. This should be done based on merit and ability, and nothing else.
I do not want to see the destruction of any political party. A diverse group of parties is what makes for a healthy democracy, no matter what we may think of them. And so it is with Umno.
However, unless it truly gets its act together, eject its dinosaurs and their outmoded way of thinking, there will be many more KTs, and in time people will be saying, “Wow! Whatever happened to Umno?”