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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kassim Ahmad, the unwitting Jebat

Is he alone in defending democracy in Umno?
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kassim ahmad
Malay scholar Kassim Ahmad may have unwittingly cast himself into the role of Hang Jebat by his latest blog post.
In his 1964 dissertation, Perwatakan dalam Hikayat Hang Tuah, Kassim had dared to challenge traditional Malay thinking by contending that Hang Jebat, not Hang Tuah, was the true Malay hero for his earnestness in defending honour and principles, even if it meant turning against the Sultan.
Fast forward 51 years to last weekend, and we find Kassim challenging Malay thinking once again.
The occasion this time was a press conference last Friday following a meeting of the Umno Supreme Council. Party President Najib Razak told the gathered press that the 59-member council had decided to postpone Umno’s general assembly and elections by another 18 months and that the decision complied with the party’s constitution.
The purpose, Najib said, was to enable the party “to focus on service to the rakyat, to reduce tensions within the party and to prepare for the 14th general elections.”
“The question Umno members and the rakyat ought to ask,” Kassim writes, “is whether the reasons are valid. Will the general assembly prevent service to the people? Will it really be an obstacle in the party’s preparations for the next general election?”
“I think otherwise,” he says. “The general assembly will cure everything.”
It will, he suggests, provide government leaders with a platform to brief delegates. It will also provide the delegates the opportunity to reprimand party elders and propose moves that the party should take.
“All this will only serve to improve service to the people and strengthen Umno to face the next general election,” Kassim adds.
Kassim thinks that deferring the general assembly will only increase criticism of Najib’s administration.
“It seems that Najib and the Supreme Council are afraid to face the delegates,” he says. “They appear intent on hiding certain weaknesses.”
“Yet, truth emboldens us while wrongs raise fears,” he says, adding that the Umno leaders must be brave enough to receive constructive admonishments and suggestions from party delegates, claiming that it will strengthen the party and bring it greater victories in the future.
Malay folklore tells the tale of the covenant struck between Sang Sapurba, of royal descent, and local chief Demang Lebar Daun, who abdicated his throne in favour of the former.
Agreeing that his descendants shall henceforth be the subjects of Sang Sapurba and his descendants, Demang Lebar Daun made one request – that his descendants be treated well by their new rulers.
“If they offend,” Demang Lebar Daun was supposed to have said, “they shall not, however grave their offence, be disgraced or reviled with evil words. If their offence is grave, let them be put to death, if that is in accordance with the divine law.”
Sang Sapurba agreed. “In turn, your descendants shall never, until the end of time, be disloyal to my descendants, even if my descendants oppress them and commit evil.”
The pact was agreed to, but with the provision that if either side departed from the terms, so would the other.
Fast forward now to the age of Hang Tuah. Perhaps it was Sultan Mansur Shah who broke the pact when he sentenced the loyal Hang Tuah to death.
Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah (A just king is a king to venerate, a despotic king is a king to repudiate),” Jebat bellowed as he ran amok.
And so it is told that the Sultan, on learning that Tuah was still alive, summoned him and ordered the killing of Jebat. Tuah, ever loyal to the Sultan, obliged. Jebat, despite his loyalty to his comrade, would succumb.
Dictionary.com defines “democracy” as “a government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”
Kassim Ahmad knows this. To him supreme power in Umno lies with its delegates. Which is probably why he questioned the decision of the body which by name is supreme – the Supreme Council of Umno – to cast aside the general assembly.
To him also, council members would have been like Tuah, showing misplaced loyalty to their leaders at a time when the people whom they were elected to serve had genuine concerns that needed to be addressed.
Who else then to play Jebat, anti-hero to the masses but defender of the honour and principles of true democracy?
Stand proud, Pak Kassim. Hopefully, you will not stand alone.

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