Malaysia has spoken. And she did not mince her words when it came to UMNO.
Once part of a ruling coalition that had never failed to obtain two-thirds majority in Parliament, the party is now reduced to being the largest party outside of the ruling Government coalition following the recent elections. Only 54 of its representatives will be taking their seats in the new Parliament.
A party that was born from the resistance towards the British rule has turned into a party that is resisting the tide of change. From a party that was formed on the back of teachers and scholars, UMNO has turned into a party that was filled with those enjoying the free ride on the back of the Government.
The warning signs were clear, and have been there the past decade. The public first showed its dissatisfaction during the 12thGeneral Election, when the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional were historically denied a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Yet, it was still business as usual.
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Calls for self-reflection were made, yet no substantive actions were taken. Calls for internal reforms were made, yet troubled personnel were still retained for political mileage. UMNO was confident it still had the support of the people.
Malaysia then gave UMNO a second chance in 2013. She gave UMNO a larger share of the seats, although overall the ruling coalition then had a reduced majority. The run-up to the election was marred by mudslinging by both sides, and the events post-elections were not a memory most Malaysians would be keen to be reminded of.
Again, there were talks of national reconciliation. There were murmurs of turning over a new leaf.
Yet, it was still business as usual. This time around however, it was with a dangerous twist.
The party started to pander to excessive religious overtures, demonising those who were against their path and strengthening the siege mentality. Save for a few, gone were those who pushed for progressive economic agendas, uplifting the state of the national education system or revamping the civil service.
All that the party was left with were hollow voices adhering to the devil’s whisper in their ears.
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The body language of the party was that of one scared of its own shadow, and it kept running away from reality. As the party swayed further to the right, those who were supporting started to question whether this party was the right platform for them.
To say that UMNO is at a crossroads is an understatement. The party is now facing a choice that will decide its fate.
Choose to stay on the similar path, and the next generation will only know of the party from their history books.
A revolution is quick, but dangerous. It is often guided by irrational emotion and populist sentiments. This is not what the party needs.
What UMNO needs is a process of rejuvenation. This means from the top of the party, all the way to those at the bottom of the chain of command. Responsibility is shared, and should not be borne by a single individual. All those in leadership positions in the party, be it elected or appointed, have to be accountable.
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What UMNO needs more than ever are leaders who are not only able to connect with the people, but also able to challenge the current thought process of society. The call for change is ringing through the ears of each Malaysian, and this should not be an opportunity missed by the new torchbearers of the party.
This is the time for UMNO to re-examine its position as a political entity, not just for the Malay population, but also for the entire country. Previously enshrined conventions have to be questioned, such as the need for vernacular schools, for the party to come to terms with the new Malaysia.
This is not a call for a purge. This is a call for the party to return to the roots of its struggle, a struggle that was borne out of the will of the people. This is a call for those who choose to remain to do what is right. This is a call to return UMNO as the voice of the people.
UMNO, the clock is ticking.
Faiz Rahman is currently with a private Malaysian developer. He studied his A-levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM, before pursuing his degree at Durham University, United Kingdom, reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He was the former Chairman of the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC), an umbrella body for Malaysian Students’ societies across Britain and Ireland.
Main picture credit: Mohd Rasfan/AFP
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASEAN Economic Forum.