The Malayan
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The Malayan

On UMNO, and Khairy Jamaluddin

KJ plans to gun down the top position in UMNO

The dawn of new media technologies in Malaysia has changed our perspective drastically. Social media has sparked a new wave of independent journalists, bloggers, and political commentators on various platforms to add their opinions, reports, and arguments that were once a rare (or potentially dangerous) sight to behold in our local political discourse, reminiscent of the birth of the printing press in Europe. The opposition had finally found an ideal podium for them to deliver their messages to the public, who are eager to gather information that they’ve never had the chance to hear before. Eventually, the rakyat’s trust towards the ruling regime had been slowly deteriorating, which was then concluded on the 9th May 2018.

The unthinkable has happened: for the first time in the history of Malaysia, the reign of UMNO is over. People marched on the streets, with their cars and motorbikes, waving the flag of PKR in joy. Democracy is in action.

Now, what will happen to UMNO?

Days after the win, former UMNO president Najib Razak stepped down from his position and the party members will have to decide who should lead UMNO after the loss. There are three major contenders for the position: Former deputy PM Dr. Zahid Hamidi, UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh, and the tall, dark, and omnipresent figure who led the party’s youth wing, Khairy Jamaluddin (KJ).

KJ, the Oxford alumni, is an interesting figure. He had utilized the new media to strengthen his position and project his youth-friendly persona to the Malaysian public. On one hand, he was often described as the ideal UMNO guy for his rather progressive (-ish) thoughts. But on the flip side of the coin, I’ve heard people calling him a snake for utilizing racial sentiments and rhetoric when it comes to his UMNO assembly speeches. Personally, I think he’s a mix of both.

Before the election, he utilized what he believed was the best approach to the voters: Malay conservatism. He believed that the tried and tested strategy should secure the party’s position despite the mountains of scandals the party leadership had been accused of. And he got his answer after the loss.

In the recent presidential debate, every candidate admitted that the party has to go through reforms to maintain in order to recover from the devastating defeat. But only KJ dare to mention his radical plans to change the party. One of them is to turn UMNO into a multi-racial party instead of restricting its members to the Malays.

He also said the following:

“These questions need to be asked; we should not be fixed in what model we take. Everything is on the table… This must not happen again. We must not ever allow our leaders in UMNO to be detached from reality and not ask tough questions. If we continue with our feudal mindset of protecting the leader from the truth, UMNO will go extinct.”

And now we can observe that he had decided to approach the issues at hand differently this time. He’s willing to compromise the party’s long tradition and leave himself vulnerable to merciless criticism from his fellow colleagues in UMNO because he had noticed that these approaches won’t work anymore.

And that, for me, is not being a typical snake. It’s a matter of being pragmatic. In fact, there’s a name for it. It’s called realpolitik: politics based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises.

What are the given circumstances for UMNO today? Firstly, they’ve lost the election. That alone is enough to cause every keris waiving members of UMNO into a deep existential crisis. “Something is definitely wrong with our core principles, but what could that be?”, says the angst-ridden UMNO member, probably. Let me tell you what’s wrong then. UMNO has been beating a dead horse throughout this time. And the dead horse is race, religion, and royalty. Myths of the Chinese committing economic genocide, atheists plotting to overthrow the government, and every absurd issue should be handled like every other issue: through facts and evidence.

Second, the youth voters, which make up 34% of the voter population, are being ignored by the old regime. Many of them are disinterested in local politics. Perhaps they’ve become too alienated from the system and believe that their votes are futile. Even if they are interested in politics, they would not cast their ballots for UMNO. KJ had noticed it too. In the debate, he said that the UMNO has been entrenched with elitism, the remnant of our feudalistic past. And it’s time to purge those elements within the party so that the party will finally be the party of the people.

And finally, the new media. As I have mentioned above, the new media offers a vast amount of open information for the public. Pakatan Harapan had utilized it well in their campaign. Yet UMNO is comparably weak in this field.

I may disgust my Pakatan Harapan supporters, but I have to admit that I do have sentimental sympathy towards UMNO. But I would not vote for them unless they drop ethnocentric and Islamic identity politics. Perhaps it’s my bias, since everyone in my family is a UMNO supporter and they’re my earliest references to politics when I was younger. I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll meditate and write a separate article about it someday. :)

If KJ is planning to do all this, then he should have my thumbs up. But like how laws are useless without anyone enforcing them, promises with no effort are just futility. I applaud his intentions, but I’m still very skeptical about his delivery.

But we need a strong and credible opposition who will stand ready with new arguments, ideas, and proposals in our political discourse. And I do hope Khairy can win this election. Not because he’s an angel. But since he’s the best amongst the worst.

Because in the end, it’s not just about getting the right people to do the right things. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.

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