Reformasi yang menentukan hanya Umno yang berkuasa dulu kini dan selamanya…tak gitu?
Umno reforms meet inertia
By Shanon Shah
Khairy, Rosnah and Shahrizat (Rosnah pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
THE 60th Umno general assembly has been touted as one in which the biggest political party in Malaysia will set much-needed reforms in motion. But if the party’s Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings’ assemblies on 14 Oct 2009 are any indication, it looks as though the party will have to wade through institutional and historical inertia before changes can even be attempted.
Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s speech was much-anticipated, being his first since he was elected the wing’s head in March 2009. Khairy did not disappoint. After starting with the requisite praises of leaders past and present, Khairy moved on to the obligatory opposition-bashing.
But to Khairy’s credit, his attacks on the Pakatan Rakyat were quite measured. When he accused PAS of subjugating itself to DAP, he stayed clear of challenging PAS to introduce more Islamic laws. He merely said that for a party that previously espoused setting up an Islamic state as its primary goal, PAS was uncharacteristically eager to change its tune at the prospect of grasping federal power.
Similarly, his attacks on DAP steered clear of accusing the secular party of being anti-Islam and anti-Malay Malaysian. He merely said that for a self-proclaimed multi-racial party, DAP seems overrun by only one particular race of Malaysians.
And credit to Khairy, his attacks on PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim steered clear of degrading and insulting comments about Anwar’s alleged homosexuality. But as restrained as he was, Khairy couldn’t stop the Youth delegates from throwing in their two cents about Anwar’s alleged sexual preferences.
Khairy (file pic)
Therefore, it was a stunning moment when Khairy cut short his rabble-rousing to get to the heart of his address: Umno, he said, had to ditch Malay dominance. Kepimpinan Melayu must replace ketuanan Melayu. So revolutionary was Khairy’s vision in the realm of modern Umno discourse that the delegates sat stunned for what seemed an uncomfortably long time. They shifted in their seats, leafed through copies of Utusan Malaysia, and fiddled with their mobile devices. They certainly greeted Khairy with a standing ovation at the end of his speech, but it was unclear whether they even understood what he was really talking about. Indeed, during the debate of his speech, many Youth delegates resorted to the same old rhetoric of patronage and did not even address Khairy’s call to ditch ketuanan Melayu.
But it was a moment nonetheless — watching an Umno leader take on the very ideology that fuels the party’s grassroots. It might have even been the miracle many Malaysians were waiting for if not for the other two addresses delivered on the same day.
Rhetoric vs results
Newly-minted Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil also decided to up the ante with her address. She said that Wanita’s three urgent priorities were:
Ensuring women received justice under Islamic Family Law. Shahrizat, however, did not challenge the substance of the legislation, merely its application in the syariah courts. She talked about the importance of looking after Muslim women’s welfare in cases of divorce, child support and maintenance.
Empowering women economically. Instead of going on a spiel that blamed women for their lack of economic empowerment, Shahrizat identified a few core barriers to women’s participation in the workforce, for example, that so few employers offer childcare support for working women.
Increasing women’s access to leadership. Here, Shahrizat hoped that the abolition of the party’s quota system would allow for women’s delegates to have more direct access to leadership even at the grassroots level.
Shahrizat (file pic)
In many ways, Shahrizat’s speech was even better than Khairy’s. She had numbers and figures to back her claims. She identified problems and issues. She provided solutions.
But perhaps Shahrizat needs to be evaluated against higher standards than Khairy. She is a former and current Women, Family and Community Development Minister. She should already know these issues like the back of her hand, and in fact she should have tried to solve them a long time ago. That she needs to raise them as Wanita chief again is actually problematic — does Shahrizat merely deliver on rhetoric, and not on actual results?
Smorgasbord of ketuanan rhetoric
Even so, Shahrizat’s address shone with promise compared to that given by newly-elected Puteri Umno chief, Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin. To be fair, Rosnah tried to cover an ambitious amount of ground in her maiden policy speech. She had ideas on school education, facilities, urban poverty, language, foreign domestic workers and yes, even Islam. But if Rosnah’s ideas on reform in these areas catch on in Puteri Umno, then multiracial Malaysia will have a problem.
Rosnah wants the national language to be called “Bahasa Melayu”, not “Bahasa Malaysia”. After all, she says, why call it “Bahasa Malaysia” when only Malay Malaysians speak the language anyway while all the other races only want to defend their own native languages? She is also aghast at how much Malaysia is conceding to the demands made by Indonesian domestic workers. Why legislate a day off for them? Why raise their wages? They only run away, fall in love, and get pregnant out of wedlock anyway. Get workers from Cambodia instead, she says.
Rosnah (pic courtesy of theSun)
That Rosnah talks about all of this as part of her “reform” package is worrying. Her address, unlike Shahrizat’s and Khairy’s, uses the phrase “ketuanan Melayu” quite liberally. Perhaps what is even more worrying is that today’s Puteri leaders are tomorrow’s Wanita leaders. At least the problem with Shahrizat now is that she spouts beautiful rhetoric but does not deliver in substance. Imagine the kind of problems the party, and the public, will likely have with Shahrizat’s heir.
And so, with the conclusion of the Youth, Wanita and Puteri assemblies today, the country may still not witness a giant leap for Umno. Khairy stuck his neck out, Shahrizat repeated a description of ongoing issues, and Rosnah merely regurgitated supremacist rhetoric.
If anything, however, it will be interesting to observe longer-term reactions towards Khairy’s address. After all, it is Umno Youth that has often occupied the headlines for its defensive and exclusivist rhetoric in the past. Can Khairy single-handedly drag Umno Youth, and by extension Wanita and Puteri, into a new way of thinking and doing politics? Good thing he laid out his vision on public record — now, not only Umno Youth, but the entire country, can hold him accountable to this vision.
What is Umno changing?
By Koh Lay Chin
THERE is a cautious hopefulness about the upcoming amendments to the Umno constitution, which will be debated in an extraordinary general meeting held within the party’s annual general assembly beginning today, 13 Oct till Friday, 16 Oct 2009. Party veterans and leaders say the constitutional amendments are a welcome start towards reforming the party, which saw its worst defeat in decades in the March 2008 general election.
However, there are still some doubts among some party faithful who say these proposed changes have yet to be established or tested. Additionally, what exactly is Umno doing to its constitution that will ensure the party rejuvenates itself?
At the forefront of the amendments is the removal of the quota system, put in place during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad‘s tenure as party president, and the widening of the party’s voter base. These two structural barriers have been identified as blocking the contest for top posts and encouraging money politics.
The party is moving to enlarge the voting base from 2,500 delegates to 146,500 members. The rationale is that by doing so, it becomes much harder to bribe such a huge number of voters.
Principle vs logistics
Veteran party leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah says he believes these amendments will open the way to reform, but maintains that ultimately all members have the right to vote for their leaders. However, the proposal to extend voting rights to all three million members was dropped during discussions on the proposed amendments.
Wan Farid Umno constitution amendment committee secretary Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh tells The Nut Graph that the option to allow all members to vote was put aside for now because it was an impractical move. “I do not think that at the moment, Umno has the necessary logistics to conduct the national party election based on three million members. But the empowerment of members must start somewhere. And this is the beginning,” he says.
Some have accepted this as reasonable, such as Umno disciplinary board member Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas, who voices doubts about the existence and quality of the three million members in the first place.
Others like Tengku Razaleigh, however, are adamant about the right of every single Umno member to choose the leadership directly. “There is a very basic principle at stake here: each and every member of Umno who has paid his [or her] RM1 subscription has the right to have a direct say in who represents him [or her] as president. Either we accept this principle, or we don’t. Are we afraid of our own members?” he asks in an e-mail interview.
No more quotas
As for the controversial nomination quota for the party’s top posts, there seems to be agreement — and relief — across the board that it will be removed. Tengku Razaleigh stresses that the quota is undemocratic, unconstitutional and contravenes the party’s founding spirit. He had previously failed to secure the 58 nominations he needed to challenge Datuk Seri Najib Razak for the party presidency in the March 2009 party elections.
Umno members understand that these measures are necessary for transformation, Wan Farid says, and that the rakyat is observing the party’s steps towards reform. “The fact remains that not many politicians, especially those whose party are in the government, want to change a system that puts them into power. But we have to be serious about transformation if we want to be taken seriously by the rakyat,” he says.
As to the amendments to make the party leadership more inclusive, Wanita Umno permanent chairperson Tan Sri Napsiah Omar agrees that women and younger members would be better represented if the proposed amendments are voted in. The amendments look set to increase the number of women members represented in branch-, division-, and state-level committees. Currently, only three to five women are members of these committees — a disproportionately small percentage compared with their total membership.
Wanita Umno delegates (Courtesy of theSun)The removal of the quota system also opens up the opportunity for anyone, including a woman, to rise to the top.
There is also the proposal to automatically make the chiefs of the Wanita, Pemuda and Puteri wings delegates at the divisional delegates meeting. This would mean a small army of 51,000 younger male and female members casting their votes for the party’s leaders.
“From what I understand of the amendments, a man or woman can be nominated to become president. It would now depend on whether women members utilise these new changes as the vote is gender neutral. The discrimination will not come from the party constitution.
“The structural impediments are removed, but of course this has to be tested,” Napsiah observes.
But there is a caveat to anyone contesting a high post within the party. Aspiring leaders would have had to serve a minimum number of years before contesting for higher posts. Opinions on this condition are currently split.
Napsiah, for example, says this assurance of experience was fair and understandable; while Tengku Razaleigh insists that every party member has the right, guaranteed by the federal constitution, to contest any party position.
“Every society (and a political party is a society) is bound by the federal constitution through the Societies Act to apply these principles. It’s not just a matter of delaying talent, which of course it does. It’s about doing the right thing,” he argues.
All said and done, will these structural changes bring about meaningful reform?
Tengku Razaleigh says the attempts to restrict the scope of the amendments with “some arcane restrictions” on who can contest looks like “self-serving attempts by the incumbents to block renewal”.
“Let’s just see if the party leadership will allow these elementary reforms. Either we comply with the federal constitution and behave like a lawful, democratic party, or we continue to waffle about reform. There is no other way to recover the trust of the people, and indeed of our own members,” he stresses.
Others also point out that there has to be a change of culture and mindset among Umno members themselves, or structural amendments are pointless. Napsiah, for instance, says that for there to be more representation of women, Wanita members themselves have to free themselves from the long-held notion that men should take the lead.
Tengku Razaleigh (Wiki commons)“Back in the 1940s when they formed the party, they basically made sure women didn’t get into the men’s hair by giving us a separate entity altogether. They already made it a point to give us a separate platform.
“But there is also a tendency for women to say ‘Bagi orang laki ke depan lah’. If we restrict ourselves now, then don’t blame the system. We must be brave enough to break this mindset,” she argues.
Acknowledging the views of naysayers, Wan Farid says the battle for reform is half-won if there is already an acknowledgement of problems within Umno. The other half would be won by rectifying the problems. “I believe if one realises and acknowledges that there is a problem, and one is committed both by words and deeds in resolving it, then one ought to be given the benefit of the doubt,” he says.