Thursday, October 9, 2008

The reason why Tengku Razaleigh makes a better UMNO president

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided not to defend his Umno president post and will quit in March next year when the ruling party meets at its annual general assembly. [Malaysiakini, 8/10/08]

The Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (image) has signalled that he will stepped down from his post in March 2009; making way for his second-in-command Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to succeed him in office. Badawi initially announced that he will see his term through until 2010 but his latest move seemed to have accelerated his resignation.

The biggest concern for Malaysians now is the very man who will take Badawi's place come March 2009. Though Najib was single-handedly picked by Badawi to replace him, the Deputy Prime Minister still have to endure the final internal hurdle within UMNO to be able to cement his place as party president and hence, Prime Minister.

Challenging Najib in his own turf is former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh who will be contesting in the party presidential polls in March next year. Nonetheless, Tengku Razaleigh provides the best alternative to UMNO's tarnished image as a racist party. The 71-year old Kelantan prince plans to introduce a few "radical" reforms into the Barisan Nasional scene; if he is elected as UMNO president. One of which is to turn the ruling coalition into a single multi-racial party.

Tengku Razaleigh is the only person so far to have offered himself as a candidate for the party's top post and will pit himself against Badawi's chosen successor, Najib.

The vast majority of Barisan Nasional's parliamentary seats are held by the country's three biggest race-based parties: UMNO, MCA and MIC. Despite being a coaltion of 14 parties, Barisan Nasional is still heavily influenced by its three major partners - primarily UMNO who is the leader of the political bloc. Hence, the outcome of UMNO's presidential polls bears a heavy weight on the country's future.

If elected as party president, Tengku Razaleigh will also assume the post as Prime Minister; provided Barisan Nasional stays in power, of course.

"I am suggesting that BN becomes a multiracial party open to all. Umno members can, for example, be direct members of BN. As soon as I become Umno president I will propose this," he told The Malaysian Insider in an interview. [The Malaysian Insider, 7/10/08]
It is about time for UMNO is open its doors and accept that racial supremacist ideologies of old no longer hold any relevance in today's world. If the Democrats in the United States can accept a negro running for the White House, there is no reason for Malaysians to dwell on racism in politics in the 21st century.

The UMNO presidential candidate's plan to make Barisan Nasional into a single multi-racial party came at the right time when race-based politics are loosing its ground among Malaysians. The aftermath of the March 8 General Elections has proven that the majority of Malaysians were willing to forego their racial loyalties and edge closer towards embracing the reality of a multi-racial Malaysia.

Tengku Razaleigh was also looking to establish direct party elections at all levels of leadership for UMNO; meaning the lower grassroot members would finally have a say in the election of their top leaders.

"We have three million over members. If we give them the right to elect leaders at various levels we can get rid of money politics. There is a need to democratise Umno. Power should be given back to members instead of being concentrated at the top. When the masses are beholden to the leadership, we will not move forward," he told reporters. [The Malaysian Insider, 7/10/08]
"I see UMNO is heading down. And I do not think Umno can survive the next elections. People are simply going for material gains now for themselves and their supporters. People are becoming more corrupt," he added. [The Malaysian Insider, 7/10/08]
Tengku Razaleigh also intended to implement some form of term limit among party leaders of UMNO. He suggested that the party presidential office term should perhaps be restricted to 8 or 9 nine years the most. The longest serving UMNO president thus far was former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad who held his post for 22 years.

The idea of limiting the number of years in office for party leaders could help narrowing down the chances of corruption and ultimately, power abuse.

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) president Datuk M. Kayveas also expressed his similar desire for the Barisan Nasional component parties to merge into a single entity; saying the time has come for the coalition to do.

"If component parties are serious about a merger, the issue should be brought to the BN supreme council. I think the time has come for us to discuss the possibility of merging BN parties. We have to make some changes, or we will loose the people's confidence. In order to avoid race-based competition, we should start speaking in one voice," said the former Taiping MP. [The Malaysian Insider, 4/10/08]
PPP announced that they had no intention in leaving Barisan Nasional but will stay to help in the struggle to reform the coalition for the benefit of national stability despite having no parliamentary seats in the the Dewan Rakyat.

However, MCA vice-president Ong Tee Keat did not share his counterparts' enthusiasm for change. He believed that such an ambition should be given more time to be studied first; identifying possible issues that hinder the process of merging the component parties. On a side note, Ong will be challeging for party president in the MCA polls this month.

Sarawak Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office, Bolhassan Di was also pessimistic about the whole idea; saying the ruling coalition would not be ready until all component parties agree on the same political ideology. Bolhassan, who is also Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu's (PBB) supreme council member echoed Ong's statement that a proper study should be conducted first before the talk of a merger could take place.

“We should develop gradually, in line with the natural progress of our pople of different races. Is it a good thing (single political party) to have? It is debatable in the context of Malaysia. Maybe, in the next 20 years when people think alike and until such time...not yet,” he said. [The Malaysian Insider, 5/10/08]
The crusade to merge the race-based parties in the Barisan Nasional alliance is definitely a breath of fresh air for Malaysian politics where racism dominates and decides the seats of power. Tengku Razaleigh's reform may seem far-fetched to UMNO hardliners but it was déjà vu all over again for the party. UMNO founder Datuk Onn whilst party president once proposed that UMNO open its membership to the non-Malays. Nonetheless, his aspiration for multi-racial acceptance within the party went unheeded and this led to his resignation from the party in 1951.

Perhaps Datuk Onn's insight into the nation's future was ahead of its era but the time now has come for Malaysians to set aside their racial differences and truly embrace one another as fellow countrymen; by blood and not by skin.