The effects of the just concluded Umno general assembly linger on. UUM lecturer Kamarul Zaman says Najib has been too close to the minority that he has failed to push ahead the Malay agenda, causing more conservative Malay Muslims to feel discontented.
Kamarul also warns Najib that he may lose the votes of Malay conservatives!
If we were to look back at Najib’s speech as well as the debates of other delegates during this year’s assembly, other than Mahathir and DAP, they seemed to have not created another enemy for the sake of their assaults, not even the non-Malay community.
In its stead, Najib vowed that Umno was not a racist party, saying it was an accommodating and moderate party that was not anti-Chinese. He also said Umno wanted to cooperate with all ethnic groups in this country.
The same thing could have very different implications on different groups of listeners. To the Malay rightists, that does not go well with their “Malays first” aspirations. As for the minorities such as the Chinese, what Najib said would not change their perception of Umno anyway, although at least it would not trigger bigger emotional upheavals.
We don’t really need to worry too much about Kamarul’s argument. However, it could bring out two really important thoughts:
1. Is Umno serious about readjusting its policies towards moderation?
2. Will the Umno strategies win the hearts of the minorities? Or will they meet with bigger backlash from conservative Malays?
The recent “cooperation” between Umno and PAS has stemmed from the challenges Najib has been facing in consolidating his administration, as well as Hadi Awang’s hope of staying in power. Their differing interests have nevertheless created a unique opportunity for both parties to come together.
But, if the two parties have really sealed their cooperation officially, the country’s political ecosystem will be dramatically altered. The country will be pushed further down the path of monoculturalism and monoreligionism, causing the non-Muslim society to feel the threat.
If this trend is allowed to go on, the minorities, including the Chinese, Indians and East Malaysians, will be invariably marginalized, making them convenient partners of the opposition camp.
Moreover, the Umno-PAS “cooperation” has not progressed further from superficial goodwill and mutual understanding on the upper level. The viability and actual content of cooperation remain a tough hurdle that needs to be crossed.
Are the two sides willing to share power? And how to share it? Will this be agreeable to the party grassroots and the public?
All these are very difficult hurdles.
Given these two conditions, it is unlikely that Najib would want to do anything that would hurt the feelings of the minorities. The survival of other BN component parties and the need to rely on minorities’ votes are two things he must take into consideration.
The moderate approach in Umno assembly was meant to hold out the olive branch to non-Malay community and repair the damaged relationship. It is therefore logical to think that Najib is readjusting the party’s policies to show more accommodativeness and moderation.
But will such a move help Umno and BN win the support of the minorities?
I think this is just a beginning, and the ultimate result will depend on whether there are further follow-up actions.
Although the government’s recent announcement to build and relocate SJKCs has won the thumbs-up of some Chinese Malaysians, many are unimpressed.
The anti-establishment attitude among Chinese Malaysians is not only a universal phenomenon but has also evolved into some sort of ideology. It is therefore not possible for Najib to turn the tide around. He can at best hope that his goodwill would resonate with some of the undecided voters.
But if Umno really leans towards moderation, it will not meet with strong resistance from Malay conservatives as Kamarul has anticipated.
Majority of Malays are not against the minorities nor will they believe that non-Malays are threatening their position. Many recognize the country’s diversity and are taking pride in the accommodativeness and tolerance demonstrated by Malaysians.
The Malays are in its essence a very mild and moderate ethnic group. While they uphold their own pride and religion. they will not antagonize the other communities or religions.
Most Malays value the solidarity among people of different backgrounds, believing that this is the basis of the country’s continued stability and economic prosperity.
A shift towards extremism and racism, be it from Umno or any party, will only frustrate the Malay society.
Of course there are the radicals in the Malay society, and perhaps Kamarul has been tipped that such people will react negatively, but they only make up a tiny minority, just like a handful of Chinese chauvinists in our midst.
Anyway, these people do not constitute the mainstream society and do not fit into our multicultural society either.
Umno will definitely gain from a tilt towards moderation, and a fair competition down the path of moderation among parties will work in favor of the country’s future development.