I attended a book launch on the ‘The End of Umno?’ because my good friend Saifuddin Abdullah wrote the foreword and invited me to attend. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the veteran Umno member and the best prime minister we never had; gave the keynote and launch address.
The book has four chapters contributed by four authors, and edited by Bridget Welsh. Other chapters are by other equally renowned scholars; John Funston, Clive Kessler and James Chin. The chapters are good reading with titles like:
- Umno - From Hidup Melayu to Ketuanan Melayu
- Umno - Then, Now - and Always
- From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: Umno and the Malaysian Chinese
- Malaysia’s Fallen Hero: Umno’s Weakening Political Legitimacy
It is a good political and truthful outsider view about the history of Umno from its past to its natural and impending disastrous future. All speakers predicted the same fate to Umno, similar to Japan and India with their politically and morally corrupt political parties of power, authority, and ultimate final loss of control.
Tengku Razaleigh’s thesis
Given that this was only my second time hearing or being with Tengku Razaleigh; allow me to summarise his thesis because the Umno leadership of the future needs to hear his complete argument; assuming they understand English.
In Tengku Razaleigh’s view, Umno Baru started because the judges lacked wisdom; the High Court should have ordered regularisation of unregistered branches instead of declaring Umno illegal. In his view also the original spirit of Umno needs to be revived. Umno Baru is not the Umno of Onn Jaafar and the other such originalists.
Next he argued that the Conference of Rulers is still a relevant and significant part of both the Malaya and Malaysia Agreements. They are always a significant party and that singular constitutional amendment does not exclude them from their role as moral guardians of Malaysian Constitutionalism.
The MPs also have a role and responsibility of their Oaths of Office; to uphold, protect and preserve the Federal Constitution by which they took their oath. All MPs hold this responsibility to uphold the constitution as their supreme loyalty; as per Oath of Office. Even Umno’s supreme council cannot and should not overrule this truth. This moral role of all MPs and royalty needs to be better institutionalised for assuming full and moral responsibility.
To his mind and heart, our constitutional democracy and supremacy of the Federal Constitution specifically took a beating because of the policy of privatisation. Allow me to quote his most caustic description of the Malaysian political and policy problem today:
“The privatised corporate power became the defining factor in moving the country ahead, and in the process, makes a mockery o the sanctity and supremacy of our constitution. What we need to realise is that the country is not a corporation. We cannot conflate the two; for this would place corporate power above the constitution and the people. The problem and controversy surrounding the 1MDB issue is a classic example of the conflation.”
I fully and totally agree and I am amused that to date the federal government and all her agents and agencies, whether the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), or auditor-general, or Bank Negara Malaysia, could not observe this issue clearly to rectify the mess we are already sinking into. 1MDB is simply a bad example of such abuse of power.
Conflicts of interest as operating paradigm
The older Umno fought for the interest of others. The Rulers-in-Council also did the same. They all agreed that ethnic/race-based parties were needed and therefore included MCA and MIC with their concessions. The British agreed with all these with new Malayan leaders of that time.
But, today’s Umno is now corrupted to the core; by the spoils of corporatisation through privatisation. No agency is spared including the Federal Land Development Agency (Felda), which has a clear and specific bumiputera agenda; but, who cares right? It has also become a mere means to get rich through appointees and players.
The abuse of governance of this nation-state was fully institutionalised when the president of Umno and prime minister becomes also became the finance minister; 1MDB is only one small case in point.
The entire Finance Ministry is today a framework for “piratisation of public assets for private benefit”. In fact, today the entire nation and all her natural assets are up for grabs. Anyone who can is already doing this; all in the name of privatisation but which has become ‘piratisation’.
The cabinet as executive arm of governance appears to have lost its significance and meaning. For example, Act 355 is a major policy issue for the governance of this nation-state; apart from its abuse of the Federal Constitution. But, to the best of my knowledge, it was never presented to the executive branch of governance. How then can it be tabled in Parliament, or even placed on the agenda list; without a serious discussion at the cabinet? Are all ministers colluding then?
Tengku Razaleigh warned that the government cannot simply table issues and concerns, after support of the Umno supreme council. Such lack of transparency and abuse of good governance principles needs complete review to check the other arms of governance; including by the Conference of Rulers.
Given this ugly reality of the blatant abuse of governance today by most in authority, is it unreasonable for civil activists to mobilise Bersih? After all Bersih now only wants the following five claims:
- Clean general elections
- Clean governance
- Strengthening parliamentary democracy
- Embolden and enable Sabah and Sarawak
- The right of peaceful protest by citizens
Are we really asking for much more than Tengku Razaleigh?
KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at email@example.com with any feedback or views. -Mkini