Home TA Online Does Umno stand for ‘Upholding Mohammad Najib’s Overlordship’?

Does Umno stand for ‘Upholding Mohammad Najib’s Overlordship’?

The party is in real danger of becoming, for the time being, Najib's sole saviour and lifeline

Zahid Hamidi and Najib Razak at an Umno assembly 2018 - FILE PHOTO: SETH AKMAL/THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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By M Santhananaban

Three days ago, 11 May, marked the 78th anniversary of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) once the dominant party in Malaysia.

In Umno’s history, the month of May has often been a ‘happening’ month.

Umno’s worst nightmare was on May 13 in 1969. It was a despicable and disastrous episode, but the emerging Umno leadership quickly converted that in the post-Tunku Abdul Rahman era to work on Umno’s progression to unipolarity in the nation.

John Funston in the first essay in The End of Umno book, edited by Bridget Welsh (2016), refers to then Prime Minister Razak Hussein’s ‘”Eleventh of May Political Manifesto” of 1971 in which it is postulated (p 38) that instead of pluralism “national identity would be based on Malay culture”.

A first ever high-profile prime ministerial visit to Beijing resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations with China on 31 May 1974. Razak leveraged on this pivotal occasion and used Umno’s geniality to solicit the support of ethnic Chinese voters. The ruling coalition was swiftly expanded with the formation of Barisan Nasional on 1 June 1974.

The Umno leadership then deftly defined and fudged the dominance of the party within BN.

In the general election in August 1974, BN won 135 out of 154 seats (87.7%) in Parliament with just 60.8% of the popular vote.

Razak and his successors, especially Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then secured Umno’s financial and formidable dominant position.

On 27 May 1988, however, the edifice was shaken when Mahathir summoned Lord President (as the chief justice was then known) Salleh Abas. Salleh was formally informed that he had become a person of adverse interest due to alleged improper conduct.

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In hindsight, it had nothing to do with the eminent top judge’s conduct. It had to do with Umno’s survival; there was fear the party’s dominance within the nation was being tested. Salleh was blamed for this turbulence and then dismissed by an unsavoury tribunal.

Three decades later, Umno, under Najib Razak, was stunned. BN, which the party had dominated from 1974, lost the 2018 general election.

Since then, Umno has been under siege, mainly from some of its former leaders and former members. These former leaders seem to share a rare unity of purpose that the party should not be a powerful force in Malaysian politics. In this, these former leaders, including two former prime ministers, appear to be succeeding.

After the conviction and imprisonment of former Prime Minister and Umno president Najib Razak in August 2022, the party appears obsessively and unjustifiably focused on freeing him.

The grand old pre-independence party, as it observed its 78th anniversary, does not seem to be focusing on ethnic Malay interests in the peninsula.

Instead, Umno’s focus appears to be on the interests of its elite, especially the party’s current president Zahid Hand and his predecessor, Najib.

The party is in real danger of becoming, for the time being, Najib’s sole saviour and lifeline.

Does Umno now just stand for Upholding Mohammad Najib’s Overlordship?

Surely, any political party cannot consciously tie itself down to one man’s fate and follies?

Dato’ M Santhananaban is a former Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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