I know this suggestion sounds odd coming from a political opponent of YB Nazri Aziz, but as I have stressed before, party politics should not transcend national interest. Umno needs an overhaul and I believe YB Nazri could be one of the change-makers to make Umno a worthier and accountable opponent.
Notorious for his brash attitude in dealing with issues, from screaming “racist” 28 times in Parliament to challenging the Tunku Mahkota of Johor, YB Nazri is indeed a colourful politician.
It’s critical to note that no politician is infallible. Perfection in politics is a myth. I heavily disagree with YB’s blind defence of Barisan Nasional and his occasional emotional outbursts which undermine national progress. However, almost all politicians have had those moments. What matters is the value-adding the person can bring to Malaysia. This is where YB Nazri stands out in Umno.
He is not shy in calling out racism when he sees it. He notoriously called his former mentor Dr Mahathir Mohamad a “racist” for supporting Barisan Nasional’s indoctrination machine known as ‘BTN’ (Biro Tatanegara or the National Civics Bureau). This outburst was undeniably laced with political interest as he was tasked to defend Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah) at the time, but his criticism was legitimate nonetheless.
When the grassroots in Umno were unhappy with Najib Abdul Razak’s ‘1Malaysia’ campaign, Nazri didn’t pander to the masses, instead proudly proclaimed that he is a Malaysian 1st and Malay 2nd, contradicting the then-deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Muhyiddin Yassin.
This signals his sincerity in forwarding the Malaysian agenda. Coming from a race-based political party, it is exceptionally unpopular to mention these things yet he went on anyway due to his beliefs.
This provides a unique counter-narrative in Umno which is woefully needed at the moment. Umno is not supposed to be a monolithic ideological block. During Tunku Abdul Rahman’s era, Umno was a party which assembled diverse opinions and beliefs among the malay community. Progressives, liberals, conservatives, Malay nationalists, etc were all accepted and celebrated.
Lacking elements of diversity
Unfortunately, the Umno we see today lacks the element of diversity. That explains the urban flight which drains the party’s popularity in urban areas. In 2014, Umno’s Religion Bureau tabled a motion to amend Clause 3.3 of the party’s constitution to define Islam as ‘Sunni’ only.
Besides that, many in Umno was quick to label Saifuddin Abdullah a stooge of liberalism for initiating a campaign against racism. This was a time where Saifuddin was still a top leader in Umno.
When Umno delves too deep in the politics of hate and racism, it becomes infectious, thus consuming the diverse core it once held. Those who are even remotely close to DAP are labelled as ‘Anti-Malays’ while pro-Malaysian policies are kept on the backburner due to its purported anti-Malay agenda.
Nazri challenges that monolithic bloc as he’s known to be close and chummy with DAP’s Lim Guan Eng. He unapologetically shows that it is not toxic to work with the Chinese community. He openly supports the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), a taboo subject to those in Umno. His counterparts in Penang Umno, for instance, have complained openly as they’re sidelined from lucrative federal contracts under his control.
Barisan Nasional’s Chinese-majority party, MCA, has also grumbled that his close association to the opposition’s DAP, MCA’s major nemesis, could be misconstrued by the electorate. This new political culture is what Umno needs. It won’t resolve all the woes that blight the party, but it’s comparatively better than the status quo.
If he had solely prioritised a utilitarian outcome, he would have danced to the tune of PAS by pursuing an ultra-Malay unity government between Umno and PAS, yet he did the exact opposite. He ridiculed the idea by stating that Barisan Nasional can never be ruled by an all-Malay government. This again, worked against what Umno leadership was strongly pushing for, a unity government which would unite the two Malay-Muslim political blocs.
Even if Nazri loses in the presidency contest, he would have at least jump-started the discourse in Umno which will be felt by the grassroots. Debates and discussions premised on diverse opinions are a sign of progress.
We witnessed how Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton for the presidential ticket on behalf of the Democrats led to a whole new wave of left-wing politics which rejuvenated American politics. Despite losing, the effects of his campaign can still be felt post-election. I believe Nazri can do the same if he is to run for Umno’s presidency.
I know this sounds ironic coming from someone who was once ridiculed by Nazri for being “too young”. However, as I mentioned at the start of this article, no one is gifted with perfection. I do not take his criticism as an axe to my political career, instead I treat it as a challenge which I need to overcome.
I do hope that he runs for Umno’s presidency. Having the balls to take up Dr Mahathir’s debate challenge is truly refreshing to see coming from someone whose boss notoriously chickened out at the last minute. We need a credible Umno, especially when they are in the opposition (soon, inshaAllah). I believe Nazri could be the right check and balance which Malaysia needs.
SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is a part-time lecturer at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) Malaysia and is Asia’s best debater, winning the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.- Mkini