AFTER the colossal defeat in the Malaysian elections last week, the once-thriving United Malays National Organisation (Umno) the lynchpin party of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is now left in shambles.
To recap, Malaysia for the first time since independence (in 1957) fell to the opposition coalition, owing to a host of factors that led to BN’s removal from Putrajaya, a landmark in the country which stands as a symbol of power.
The Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of hope) opposition pact made national history when it obtained more than 112 seats in Parliament, thereby enabling it to form a majority government.
Former ruling coalition BN which has held power for the past six decades trailed behind with 79 seats, a significant drop from the 133 they secured in the 2013 general election.
One of the main reasons for the huge loss, according to Umno Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin, is the sense of denial within the party’s top brass.
In recent years, the party led by now ousted Najib Razak, was plagued by the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund scandal that dogged his leadership, and ultimately, culminated in his resignation from the party on Saturday.
Reflecting what went wrong within Umno in the lead up to the defeat, Khairy said he regretted not telling Najib that Umno’s grassroots support base, who number in the millions, rejected the latter’s leadership he purged his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and former Umno veep Shafie Apdal for questioning 1MDB in mid-2016.
Khairy said the failure to speak the truth in the name of protecting Najib will be a lifelong regret.
“What happened was we became delusional; we got drunk on our own Kool-Aid and we got carried away,” Khairy told Singapore’s Channel News Asia.
“This must not happen again, we must not ever allow our leaders in Umno to be detached from reality and not ask tough questions. If we continue with our feudal mindset of protecting the leader from the truth, Umno will go extinct.”
Khairy, who is the former Youth and Sports Minister, said Umno needs to undergo an overhaul and make structural changes in order to remain relevant to the people’s aspirations. This might include opening up Umno’s membership to other races, ending its tradition of accepting registration for only the ethnic Malay majority.
“We should seriously consider all options. What model do we want? United Malays National Organisation or United Malaysian National Organisation? What is our DNA, what is our raison d’être?” Khairy said.
“These questions need to be asked; we should not be fixed in what model we take. Everything is on the table.”
Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who took over Najib on Saturday as the party’s acting president, said Umno is prepared to negotiate with other parties to either form a government or become the opposition. But this will be done with the consensus of all of BN’s component parties, namely the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) who represent the respective minorities in the country’s race-based political landscape.
“This means that any party which wants to negotiate will have to talk to Barisan as a whole and not just with a single party in the coalition. We want to rise and move forward together with our Barisan friends,” he said, as quoted by The Star.
But before Umno could even begin such talks, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had rejected the idea of a pact, saying the ruling Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition would not be establishing ties with Umno.
Dr Mahathir said this was because Umno faced deregistration, the likely outcome of the party for failing to hold its internal elections in time.
“Umno cannot be in PH (Pakatan Harapan),” Dr Mahathir said, as quoted by the New Straits Times.
“In fact, it is up to the Registrar of Societies to decide Umno’s status.”