Letters - Umno and Malays

AT the recently concluded General Assembly, Umno leaders renewed their pledge to champion the cause of agama, bangsa dan negara.

As a Malay and as a Muslim, it would be sacrilegious for me not to support a platform that professes to protect the community I belong to as it has brilliantly done for more than 50 years.

As a Malaysian citizen, it would be undemocratic of me not to exercise my right to vote at the upcoming general election as every eligible rakyat must do.

The best demonstration of the democratic freedoms and democracy laid out in the Federal Constitution lies in translating these ideals into a singular vote.

This is what is meant by people power and the establishment of a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

But I am now entangled in a terrible personal dilemma. I would like to vote for Umno as I have faithfully done all these years.

My family members have been Umno loyalists ever since my parents, along with tens of thousands of proud Malayans, fought hard to free the country from colonialism.

They then participated in the first post Merdeka election – my father Dr Said as the Alliance-Umno candidate for the Linggi constituency in Negri Sembilan, and my mother as the supportive wife entertaining and cooking endlessly for the Linggi people.

Later she was to become the state Ketua Kaum Ibu (State) by virtue of her husband's position as the first elected mentri besar of Negri Sembilan and Ketua Umno (State).

The poem below captures their complementary roles in the 50s and 60s:

Beloved wife of a leader -
Your strength and fortitude,
Courage and observance,
Gave him his
To serve the ummah and be their guide
In life's mortality.

Forbearing lover of a man,
Whose chartered course in life
To heal the sick and steer the state
To heights of dignity,
Chained you to mortal time
But freed your mind's heart.

To be wise, Woman!
With a wisdom not schooled
In the circuitous philosophical bent
Of learned ulamas with fancy beards,
Of smart professors in learned gowns.

Yours was the wisdom of experience,
Of tasting the sweet bitterness
Of living and dying …
Not voting for Umno in the 14th GE would, therefore, be tantamount to a betrayal of my mother and father, culturally termed as derhaka which is second to syirik, the unforgiveable betrayal of Allah.

Betraying Allah and one's parents are grievous sins indeed, for which I would have to do the umrah many times over to taubat and ask the Almighty to grant me mercy.

However, I am deeply troubled not by any act of betrayal but by this overarching sadness I feel at no longer being able to vote for the party upholding the cause of my people and our religion.

On election day, I will feel the weight of my being utterly immobilised by the ballot paper. What will I do? I have painted the hypothetical picture of myself paralysed by the ballot box which, ironically, is supposed to give me all my so-called freedoms.

A simpler, less emotional explanation is that I am quite disillusioned by the political leaders on all sides, in particular the Malay leaders in Umno.

Are they really putting their ears close to the ground and listening to the voices of the people?

Are they aware that what they are doing and saying is creating the new wave of social dissension bigger than any we have seen before?

Don't they realise that if these currents of discontent are allowed to fester unchecked, they will magnify into a socio-political tsunami sooner rather than later?

At the Dialog Rakyat For National Cohesion and Unity forum (ironically held on Dec 3 at the same time as the closing of the general assembly), among the calls from panel and roundtable speakers were some outstanding ones such as "Ban politicians from speaking" and "Introduce a code of ethical behaviour for politicians".

The first I consider an illogical proposal and the second a brilliant one if carefully thought through.

We know that members of parliament and state assemblymen are required to observe strict rules of conduct and behaviour in their respective august Houses but outside it has become a free for all.

We need the code of ethical conduct and behaviour for politicians to be operable at all times and in all situations.

Malaysia is unique in allowing the proliferation of race-based political parties and more recently NGOs, whose sole purpose is to strengthen their power and influence over the ethnic group they represent.

I have always held the view that being racial, that is feeling and being at one in and with your own community is natural.

Wanting to protect one's kith and kin along with their socio-cultural and religious legacies is a wonderful act of human preservation and survival.

However, to paint other ethnic groups as evil and to use them as bogeymen to scare others is downright racist.

Stopping this culture of hatred requires not only a code of ethical conduct and behaviour for race-based political parties but more importantly, strict anti-racism laws.

Stringent laws with commensurate, uncompromising punishment are society's rightful bogeymen to scare politicians and laymen alike, should they be arrogant and criminal enough to break them.

Datuk Halimah Mohd Said
Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason