…Umno tells the people what they need. It rarely listens or consults beyond the privileged circle of party activists.
Umno must come to terms with reality — popular sentiment is dynamic and unforgiving. Moreover political parties are neither destined nor fated to lead.
Past achievements and former glories amount to very little in the face of mounting expectations from increasingly well-educated and demanding voters, especially during periods of economic uncertainty.
Sadly, over the past 12 months, Umno has not shown itself either ready or willing to face up to its myriad challenges. Indeed the party’s substandard performance in the two by-elections — Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu — reinforces a growing sense that Umno has gone leaderless and adrift.
The grand old party of Merdeka with its noble traditions and genuine service culture has simply lost steam. Those who throng the party’s ranks — and their families — are deliberately excluding many thousands of professional and educated Malays who want to get involved in public life, forcing the latter to turn to the welcoming embrace of Pas and PKR.
As one former Umno leader explained, “Karim, they’ve lost faith in themselves.”
The impending departure of Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has become a convenient fig leaf for the party’s leadership who now blame the outgoing premier for all failings.
Whilst there is some truth in their arguments — Abdullah’s laissez fair leadership did indeed expose Umno’s weaknesses — the continuing refusal of the party’s leadership to acknowledge their own complicity is worrying.
At the same time, there is a growing sense that the nation’s character has altered.
Voting patterns have changed and neat racial stereotyping has been rejected, perhaps forever; just look at the way non-Malays swung behind Pas and countless urban Malays deserted Umno by voting for PKR and even the predominantly ethnic Chinese DAP.
In the final analysis, Umno has two options. First, it can endeavour to turn the clock back on events and deny the growing demands for greater social and political freedoms as well as the attendant push for greater transparency and accountability.
This strategy could well succeed for a certain period of time. However, it will definitely lead to a tremendous backlash that will in turn destroy the very fabric of our fragile multi-racial society.
Instead of an atavistic return to the Mahathir-era, Umno could reform both itself and the government before it is too late.
The party is worth saving and must be saved.
Change is inevitable and as I’ve said, we are not alone in facing these challenges.
After decades of real peace and prosperity, the current Malaysian elite must face up to these demands unless they wish to be swept away by the inexorable tide of history.
Umno leaders still unwilling to change