Malaysiakini : “I'm Jack's complete lack of surprise.” - Narrator, Fight Club
COMMENT | With Umno going full
metal far right, the only person in the largest opposition party who
seems to be talking any sense is former youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.
His failed bid for the Umno grand poohbah post indicates that the old
guard and their old ways will continue to hold dominion over the Umno
base. Khairy’s rhetoric of Umno being a big tent party for the Malays is
from the playbook of the GOP, which makes similar claims. But
unfortunately, that’s not the reality.
A long time ago, when I first started writing for Malaysiakini, I made it known that Khairy was my bête noire.
No idea why I said it, but something about this young man rubbed me the
wrong way. I could go over the litany of his misdeeds, but that would
be hypocritical considering I have advocated for the motley bunch that
runs Putrajaya now. I have to take Khairy’s rhetoric at face value. With MCA down for the
count for the time being and MIC – god only knows what they’re doing –
the only opposition we have is a Malay one.
I doubt anyone could make a decent argument as to how Umno and PAS
are going to make an effective opposition for all Malaysians. This
leaves a few lone political operatives to hold the current establishment
accountable. Khairy is one of them. And it’s going to be one hell of job. Not only is he going to face
the online opprobrium of Pakatan Harapan partisans, he’s also going to
have to face the machinations of his own party. The reality is that even
at the height of his influence, Khairy was despised by the far right
elements who are now firmly in control.
A reader asked me, how I would react if Khairy joined Bersatu or any
other Harapan party. My answer is, why not? Have you seen the so-called
best and the brightest of Harapan? At least Khairy talks a good game and
has practical experience when it comes to the business of governing.
Besides, at this moment, there are games afoot between the various
Harapan power groups, which would make it very interesting if someone
like Khairy was in the mix. If he brings his base over to Harapan – and
he does have a base – it would be interesting to see how this impacts
the various Malay power blocs in the coalition.
Sticking with Umno
Khairy has publicly claimed that he is sticking with Umno. But does
Umno need or want him? Well, yeah, they need him, but they definitely
would not be sad to see him go. Right now, there is a middle-road Malay base which supports Umno, but
who are glad to see the back of the former grand Umno poohbah Najib
Abdul Razak. This same group is also despondent that Khairy lost and the
opportunity to reform Umno into an urban-based Malay political outfit
has gone up in smoke.
To be honest, I was a little taken aback by the emails I received and
the number of young Umno-aligned Malays who invited me to their chat
groups, all devastated that Khairy lost. They were articulate in their
views of how the party needs to reform. What really got to me was their
belief that they were the young generation that would reform Umno and
this was the beginning of a new ‘Malay renaissance.’
I think what Khairy gets right is that there is a movement within
Umno which understands that the far right gambit is one of diminishing
returns. As long as Bersatu has DAP and PKR as its wingmen, they control
the middle ground.
Umno, meanwhile, has nobody but PAS. At this moment, Prime Minister
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whether you like it or not, defines the Malay
middle ground, even if he does not have the base. Honestly, the Harapan
grand poohbah is slowly building up Bersatu, and adheres to the mantra
‘If you build it they will come’. This is the Malay future, as Mahathir
and his coterie define it.
So when someone like Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman claims that Khairy is “liberal,” and compounds it by saying
that: “We are going back to our principles according to the party
constitution. If he thinks we have to be more liberal compared to what
we have been doing now, then I beg to differ” is really dumb.
What do you think Khairy is doing but hearkening back to the days
when Umno was an effective means to govern with its centrist ideology –
well, for Malaysia - and its effective (English language) educated
The Malays who support someone like Khairy are talking about the
Malays and how Umno has failed in the agenda of making them modern and
competitive, while the party fat cats send their children to liberal
schools and lead extravagant lifestyles. Meanwhile, the average Umno-supporting Malay has to rely on handouts
to survive in this competitive ever-changing world. This is the
realpolitik when it comes to the Malay dilemma.
Indeed, when we talk about Umno back in the day of English-educated
bureaucrats, this is what these party ‘liberals’ want to go back to.
Does the Umno base want this? As Khairy said, it is difficult, but this
is what leadership is supposed to be about, right? When Mohd Arshad Raji
writes about how Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan understand a thing or two
about leadership, what do you think he is talking about?
There was a time when Umno the ‘liberal’ entity – staffed by
English-educated bureaucrats who took pride in their jobs before you
know who – decided that race and religion was a safer bet to ensure
compliance from the Malay community. Apparently, those were the days when all was good in our land of
plenty. Maybe that was not the case, but it sure as hell was better than
the way Umno turned into a bloated, lecherous ethnoreligious entity
which conned the majority into thinking it was the only game in town.
Khairy’s middle path is, in reality, Umno returning to its roots.
This is what the foolish in Umno do not understand. But Mahathir does,
which is why is he attempting to replicate the formula he had a part in
The problem is that he has to contend with the ethnoreligious
nonsense that he cultivated for years, and thus has to pay heed to the
rumblings from the cretins who insist that they need to shore up a
particular kind of Malay support – the same support which will diminish
if Harapan can handle the vagaries of the economy. That is the future.
If, as Khairy advocates, Umno has a homecoming in its return to its
centrist, educated roots, it may have a chance; but the old guard wants
to fight the future.