Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The ‘Datuk Onn syndrome’, 60 years on

Call it what you want — rebranding, reconstruction or repositioning of Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) in the aftermath of the divisive 13th general election. But it will all boil down to one huge definitive component: political will.

In today’s lingo, balls. And this inevitably includes putting in the guts to go through the Datuk Onn Jaafar road once again.

Some clear messages that cropped up from the election results have surfaced with certain quarters calling for a transformation of Umno in the face of new realities, while some are suggesting that BN becomes a single multiracial party for the sake of its survival, and to attract younger voters.

In the true spirit of striking it while it is hot, in which many Malaysians are adept, the move should be met with a resounding “boleh”. But along the way, it is not going to be that easy at all.

The push for modifications even prompted Prime Minister and BN chairman Najib Tun Razak to state on Sunday that there was no other option for the coalition but to adapt to changes now.

Just before that, his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin had said the proposal to turn BN into a single party was rational but needed to be studied in detail. He also noted that the feasibility of merging 13 parties into a single entity needed to be determined by all its component party members.

The most important question now is who, particularly in Umno, is going to take that crucial step of reliving the “Datuk Onn Syndrome” so to speak, and declare the end of race-based parties and politics. And then probably suffer the same fate as the founding father of Umno 60 years ago.

Under all kinds of pressure from the British colonial masters and the Johor palace not long after Umno was formed in 1946, Onn sought to open Umno’s doors to non-Malays. In the face of deep sentiments among Malay hardliners at that time, it proved to be his greatest undoing.

Onn had to leave Umno and formed the Independence of Malaya party in 1951. He failed miserably at that. Later he set up Parti Negara and that failed as well. So, who among the present crop of Umno leaders would want to go through that road again even if it is established that race-based politics is so Jurassic?

The sentiments are just not right at the moment, especially when what is in the minds of some people is that it was indeed a “Chinese tsunami” that caused the drubbing of MCA and Gerakan candidates and the BN to lose ground considerably in the latest elections.

Old sentiment will prevail

It cannot be denied that this Chinese factor seems to be stuck in some critical Malay minds, causing a backlash of sorts and some sections to even call for a boycott of Chinese businesses said to be supportive of Pakatan Rakyat.

Their simple argument is that if the Chinese themselves are not receptive to the various BN programmes benefitting all, why should the BN administration continue having them in the team when it is clear that Malays will form 70% of the country’s population in a few years.

This, in fact, is anticipated to be a battle-cry in the coming Umno general assembly, more so since it is election time for the party where every single merit point counts. It is expected that, with the current prejudice on misjudged Chinese support, the person who is most vocal about the interests of the Malay community would do well in the Umno polls.

Just watch. The sentiment would flow thick and fast. There will just be no time for anyone to come out of the blue and propose the dissolution of Umno-based politics in place of an all-party new-look BN.

Even if we get over this “political will” part, the next step is even more complicated because the main part of Malaysian politics is so deeply-rooted in communal divisions and power play.

For instance, if there is to be a single multiracial party to take over from the coalition of 13 race-based parties of BN, how is it going to depart from the norm? Instead of parties, will there be racial divisions within the organisation instead so as to “safeguard” the interests of specific communities?

How much of a difference will that be from today then?

And will there be quotas imposed? On the presidency and leadership structure? And most of all, if it is agreed that there is to be a single multiracial party in place, does it mean that Umno, MCA, MIC and all the rest will be dissolved? If so, this is important — what will happen to the assets?

My bet is the deep-seated old sentiment will prevail at the upcoming Umno assembly and there will not be much support for a single multi-racial party in place of Umno-BN.

[Contributed by Syed Nadzri, Redberry Group media advisor]

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