When the Alliance coalition under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra assumed power as our first government on August 31, 1957, Dwight David Eisenhower was President of USA, Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong were the respective supremos of the Soviet Union and China, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister of the UK, Jawaharlal Nehru the Prime Minister of India and Sukarno the President of Indonesia.
In the decades that followed, the US presidents and UK prime ministers have rotated between their two major political parties. Nehru’s Congress party lost power at the ballot box in 1977. Sukarno was overthrown in an army-sponsored coup in 1965. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The only political party among these randomly selected nations that is still in power today is Mao’s Communist Party of China.
Yet in Malaysia, 13th general elections and 60 years later, that coalition, known since 1974 as Barisan Nasional, is still in power. The UMNO-led coalition is the political grouping with the greatest longevity in the world, ruling continuously and without a break for 60 years.
A Gallery of past UMNO Presidents–Onn Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
It follows that all the ills that plague the nation, whether politically, economically, socially or otherwise, are the result of UMNO’s stranglehold over the nation. They are principally to be blamed for racial and religious polarisation, endemic corruption, centralisation of power in the office of the prime minister, the lack of independent, impartial institutions intended to act as checks and balances over the power and influence of the executive, the increase of Putrajaya’s influence to the detriment of the 13 states, and so on.
I shall, in the coming weeks, describe in some detail how one-party rule for over half a century is gravely injurious to our welfare. Just imagine the Conservative Party ruling the UK since 1957 or the Republican party providing the 11 presidents after Eisenhower. Well, one cannot imagine such a scenario. So why should it be acceptable to us?
‘Enough is enough’
Malaysia’s Reformist Prime Minister to be at 92?
So the foremost reason for a change of government in the forthcoming 14th general election is that Malaysians must be freed at last from the clutches of UMNO. Sixty years is surely sufficient for any one political coalition to rule any country. Enough is enough.
Although the Alliance had three component parties and BN has 14, it is commonly accepted that the reins of power have always been in the hands of UMNO, with its President automatically becoming Prime Minister.
Major policies are made and decisions taken by UMNO, sometimes even at its Supreme Council meetings. Each of the 13 other component parties knows its subordinate place in the BN hierarchy. The political reality is that for 60 years, UMNO has dominated public space in Malaysia.
For a party that was established in 1946, UMNO has only had seven Presidents in its 71-year history. Four of its Presidents left the party after leaving office. Onn Jaafar, Tunku, Hussein Onn and Dr Mahathir Mohamad not only resigned from UMNOo but joined parties opposing UMNO. It is as if they only discovered the true nature of UMNO after they left office!
Second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein died as its president. The only former UMNO president who continues to support it after his resignation is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (pic above).
This year’s general election must therefore be treated by voters as a referendum on UMNO’s continuous and unbroken rule since Merdeka. How have they managed public finances, administered schools and hospitals, arranged sales of national assets like public utilities, roads and railways to the private sector in lopsided deals against the public interest, deprived space to minorities, critics and dissenters, and so on?
They should be judged on their political and economic governance of the nation. How have they fared? What about nepotism, cronyism, patronage and leakages?
Seen from this perspective, the focus must be on the actual governance by UMNO for six decades, rather than considering the opposition, and whether Pakatan Harapan would be able to govern as a federal government.
Well, no opposition party or coalition has so far been entrusted with national governance, and so they do not have a track record to defend. Governing the states is not a real comparison because the states have little power and influence over matters that affect our daily life, apart from local government issues.
But even if one were to measure the performances of the Penang and Selangor state governments since 2008, objectively speaking, they have performed creditably and can be trusted to govern federally.
But I suggest that the focus should be on those who have held federal power to defend their track record, and be judged by such governance. Hence, the spotlight must be turned on UMNO.
TOMMY THOMAS is a prominent lawyer and social commentator.