Umno's progressive caucus - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Malaysiakini: “At the moment, Umno is perceived to be so conservative, an
Islamist party, a party that propagates propaganda, this is what is
clouding the party now, but Umno is not like that. - Umno Pulai Youth wing member Muhammad Shaqib Shahrilnizam
COMMENT | An old Umno hand wanted to know what I thought of the nascent “progressive” caucus by young leaders within the party. One of the movement’s founders gave an interview in the press where he claimed that a "silent majority" felt left out from the policymaking process in Umno.
Muhammad Shaqib said: “The idea of the caucus is to bring a new narrative that is more friendly towards the people. "We
need to find a new narrative so that people would appreciate Umno and
they feel Umno is one of the places where they can express their ideas,
concerns and even a place where they can fight for." The fact is that it is pointless to have a progressive caucus if it does not have a progressive voting base.
what Umno, the state – which at one time was Pakatan Harapan – the vast
religious bureaucracy, the various propaganda organs, the state
security apparatus, the media – mainstream and alternative –, religious
figures, political figures but most importantly mobs – online and off –
have constrained our public spaces making it impossible for citizens but
more importantly, for the Malays to express their progressive ideas.
Take Fadiah Nadwa Fikri for
example: Make no mistake, what Fadiah wrote is but one side of the
argument. A side which has been forcibly silenced over the long Umno
watch and now it would seem attempted to be silenced by the nascent
power brokers in Putrajaya.
is a side that many Malaysians subscribe to but who fear speaking up
for a variety of reasons. It is a side which is a game-changer when it
comes to how politics is perceived, practised and evolves in this
country. This is the reason why some fear what she wrote.”
To be honest, even when the opposition claims to be a “progressive” force in this country, I am sceptical. I
have no idea what Malaysian political operatives mean by the term
“progressive”, but I do know that political operatives are scrambling to
find ways to attract the youth vote while denying them avenues of
expression, especially ideas like speaking truth to power.
what you like about Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, but lowering
the voting age to 18 and his determined efforts to put youths front and
centre, are initiatives Malaysians should have been able to get behind. When defining what he believed was “progressive” politics,
Muhammad Shaqib claimed it was “Malay politics, while at the same time
pushing for equity and moving away from racial politics.”
do not mean to rag on the young man, but the way how you move away from
racial politics is by proactively advocating for policy positions and
institutional changes that move away from racial politics. Understand
now that as someone who has drawn politically incorrect lines in the
racial sands of Malaysian politics, I am not sympathetic to the idea
that racial preoccupations should be dismissed outright.
believe that there is a ‘Malay struggle' going on in the greater Malay
polity but the struggle is a reaction against the dereliction of duty
that a sizable fraction of the Malay community accuses Umno of.
dereliction of duty does not necessarily mean that these folks believe
in “progressive” ideas, but rather they believe that what they are
entitled to as citizens with special rights has been denied them,
especially when they see how the non-Malay communities are “thriving”
without any kind of or minimal state assistance.
You can see this
idea crop up whenever the old maverick speaks of the “racial
inequalities” in Malaysia and why Malay special rights are needed. As usual, he uses non-Malays – read Chinese – as the economic and social scapegoat:
"If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there
will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business
and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and
facilities for the Malays."
Now some folks, especially
young Malay leaders, have this rose-tinted view of what Umno was as some
sort of ideal when it came to race relations in this country, and
somehow the “Malay struggle” was “pure” and unsullied by the racist
policies and rhetoric that define Umno now.
This in itself is a
kind of propaganda. While Umno may have slipped into a racial and
religious quagmire and instituted a functioning kakistocracy, the
reality is that, as long as the non-Malays held up their end of the
social contract by voting for Umno surrogates and the Umno leadership
was united, the political environment, although dysfunctional, was
Young Umno Malays mistake this "stability" as some sort of equitable racial bargain. It was not.
problem with politics in this country, and specifically with the kind
of politics and policies which Umno advocates, is that it has created
two classes of Malays. The first is the political class, to which most
of the religious and racial dogma does not apply, and then there is the
average Malay, who is not so lucky.
What I find interesting though
is the response of the old school Umno men and women, who view the
current class struggle with bewilderment. Many of these men and
women were present when Felda schemes (for example) were functional
enterprises staffed by non-Malays and Malays who viewed such endeavours
as essential in furthering the goals of the social contract and
uplifting a disenfranchised community.
These Malaysians (Malays
and non-Malays) viewed paternalistic laws as a safeguard against
provocations by either side of the political divide. This does not hold
true now and perhaps it never did.
I have no idea how this
progressive caucus would work or what it would be interested in
advocating, but as long as political coalitions continue encroaching
into our public and private spaces and continue using state laws and mob
mentalities to define and restrict discourse, there will never be a
progressive base which would move this country forward.