Saturday, April 5, 2008

Finally, an Umno leader sounds appealing to all Malaysians

Saturday, 05 April 2008
The Malaysian Insider

He could have chosen the safe and narrow path and only appealed to Malay nationalism.

But by going further than any Umno leader (prime minister included) since March 8 and telling his party faithful that their relevance is tied to their appeal to all Malaysians, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has managed to:

• Elevate the current political debate engulfing the ruling party.

• Put some distance between himself and others like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who also want Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down.

• Offer Umno a road map of meaningful reform.

Pity, that the nearly man of Malaysian politics delivered this significant speech in the back of beyond in Kelantan rather than a national stage. One of the stark images after Election 2008 is how Umno, MCA and other component parties of the Barisan Nasional seem to be stuck in a quagmire of old thinking and perimeters.

Each party is fixated with becoming relevant to their own communities and staying in their communal silos. Umno wants to return to being the unrivalled champion of the Malays. MCA and MIC want to be more vocal champions of Chinese and Indians respectively.

Missing from their plans was a realisation that the People’s Pact bashed through racial politics and drew support across racial lines. Indians and Chinese supported Pas candidates. Malays supported DAP and PKR candidates.

Ku Li attempted to recalibrate the thinking in Umno yesterday. He said Umno has to be trusted by not only Malays but non-Malays as well, noting that in Election 2008 Indians and Chinese were prepared to plant the Pas flag and vote for candidates from the conservative Islamic party.

“Why? Were they under the spell of Pas or have they become Muslims. No. They did so because they believed that Pas is more fair to non-Muslims than Umno," he said.

“This is the challenge that Umno is facing today. Umno has to become a party

that is trusted by all races. Umno has to compete with new parties like PKR who are viewed by all races- including new generation Malays – as a party based on justice to all Malaysians."

Ku Li did not let up. In the eyes of non-Malays, Umno comprised a party of fanatics, and some of its leaders were fond of waving the keris, he said, referring to the unpopular act by Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein. This is probably the first time that one of Umno’s veterans has taken the grandson of the party’s elder statesmen to task for his rash act of hoisting the keris at the party assembly.

By going for the jugular and not the popular, Ku Li was telling his party men that only a complete overhaul of their attitude will save the party. He blasted their arrogance and noted that some of the Umno election candidates were so full of themselves, one of them even predicting that he would ensure that his opponent lost his deposit. Malaysians had become nauseated by the behaviour of Umno politicians, he warned.

Going through the speech, it was clear that the prince was keen on separating himself from the rest of Abdullah’s critics. He wanted to show that he has a vision to make Umno relevant again.

He knows that he is being lumped together as part of the Mahathir camp. To a certain extent, they are on the same page – both believe that Abdullah should step down and take responsibility for the debacle on March 8.

But Ku Li wants to show Umno members and Malaysians that he is his own man. Yes, he and Dr Mahathir are friends but he will not play second fiddle to the former prime minister. That is why he even took some potshots at the state of the judiciary and the quota nomination in the party – both legacies of the Mahathir era.

Though he is a party veteran, someone who has been scarred by some political battles within Umno, to many younger Malaysians, Ku Li is an unknown quantity. His speech yesterday will mark him out as someone to watch and someone worth listening to.

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