Reinventing Umno

IT was heart-wrenching to see how the 72nd anniversary of Umno turned out on May 11 – its founding day. Unlike before, May 11 used to be a very busy day at PWTC, surrounded by an all-around jubilant mood with members from all walks of life converging in the thousands. This time it was different – in a melancholic way.

The usual highlight was stolen by a "ruckus" and "commotion" that led to a passionate call for the president of the party to resign and take full responsibility for the historic failure to deliver what was promised: To make Malaysia great (hebatkan negaraku).

It quickly gained momentum particularly among the (disillusioned) youth, some even called on all those responsible for the devastating GE outcome to collectively step down and make way for fresh and younger blood to repair the damage. From what was shown over the media, the youth who were airing their unhappiness were left to their own devices to defuse the highly charged situation, assisted by the police on duty. The elders seemed to be preoccupied with their own set of "problems" under the circumstances, and thus were no where to be seen to ease the tension, raising some queries such as what happened to the oft-repeated GE slogan that "we are focused on the future of the younger generation" post-election?

Situations like this only add fire to the existing negative perceptions and impressions about Umno. What is lost in the narrative, however, is that the Umno of yesteryear and today are two different entities that are worlds apart. For example, during the launch of the book, Fulfilling a Legacy – Tun Razak Foundation in September last year, the Sultan of Perak noted that the second prime minister will be "disappointed" with the current state of affairs. He was emphatic in singling out: "If Tun Abdul Razak is still breathing today, surely he will be disappointed and regret seeing the four scenarios happening in this country now", including the economy and education.

In fact, in my growing up days, it was not unusual to see the second prime minister walking with rural folks in the paddy fields as part of his duty or to see him wearing a casual white singlet, standing waist-up in a pool of water together with the fishing community. Otherwise he would be in his signature bush-jacket ready to leap into action at a moment's notice. In every way he was well liked for his genuine effort and humility for being a people's person. It is vastly different today.

Gone are the days when Umno belonged to the rakyat and slogged for them. The name Abdul Razak was synonymous with this version of Umno that took pride in his leadership.

In short, what is not well articulated in the present story is how Umno has metamorphosed umpteen times throughout the years. And more unfortunately, the result is not necessarily a beautiful butterfly that many are anxiously expecting to see. The Umno of today has been very much inward looking, self-centred and often in denial. Despite the devastating "reality" that took the nation by surprise, the (ex) president still alleged that this was due more to "perceptions" rather than practice – reportedly quoting him as he announced publicly his resignation, a day after the youth voiced their demands.

In short, Umno has lost touch with reality as evident from the many speeches made that seemed to underestimate the "maturity" of the rakyat (as potential voters) in assessing the situation on the ground through a myriad of channels available to them globally. The introduction of the anti-fake law points to the obsession for self-preservation first and foremost that tends to back fire at a time of severe trust deficit towards the then ruling government.

Indeed, it is this pre-occupation on self-preservation combined with unrealistic denials that brought Umno to its knees before the eyes of the rakyat on that one eventful May day. By then Umno – allegedly illegal – is largely seen as a one-man show and the alphabets "MN" no longer stand for "Malay National" but more akin to the initial of the then president and prime minister. It no longer belongs to the people. And this was noticed and felt by most but not those too close to see. As a result the consequential fall was domino-like, which is clearly demonstrated by the aftermath of the GE14.

In other words, to be fair, Umno is still very much as alive as the legacies of its past presidents-cum-prime ministers who took Malaysia forward in the last five decades after Merdeka. What has actually "vanished" is the "fake version" as Umno has become increasingly "personalised" in the last decade, which few would miss and fewer still mourn if it disappears. In the words of the new prime minister, it has to go back to its roots to find itself again and to return it back to the people like it used to be in yesteryear. Failing which there will be no 73rd anniversary to celebrate come 2019. Instead it will be marked as a day of disappearance.