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Are Umno leaders fit to wear the badge of ketuanan?


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A 139-year old letter cannot express better the predicament that we are in, writes Choo Sing Chye.

Photograph: theSun Daily
Photograph: theSun Daily

Umno’s convention in November 2014 gave us a brief interlude, a small window to peek into the inner sanctum of Umno.

Instead of an innovative leap into the arena of fine and intelligent debate, we saw a parade of Umno’s so-called future leaders and silly-intellectuals promoting their wares thoughtlessly without any sense of etiquette or nobleness.

Unquestionably, this deep-seated demeanour has become a customary dictate of every Umno convention and it has spawned into a huge centre-stage for these unthinking characters and unintelligent debates.

They scream, disrupt, scold, threaten and bully their way through an argument which would finally end up as future policies which you and I have to follow.

In fact, all this scorn is never a showcase of a ketuanan in the Malay sense.

The true concept of the Malay ketuanan leans more to the side of sovereignty and eminence rather than to the racial supremacist scheme of the fascist. In short, a Malay gentleman.

Ironically, without doubt, it is common knowledge that every Umno leader aspires to be a ‘tuan’ to all races like the British. But seemingly, one of the most important aspect of a tuan which often slips from their minds and actions is etiquette.

In so saying, the legitimacy of the ketuanan Malays rests on the pillars of strength, humility, conscientiousness, nobleness, justice, responsibility, and lastly, the most important, etiquette.

All these mean that they must not treat one half of the governed with justice and the other half with scorn.

Without all these senses, it is hard for the ketuanan Umno leaders to convince citizens from other races that they are not just another bully or kepala samseng where bullying becomes the central core of their creed and doctrine.

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Umno leaders should not look at their neighbour’s cake and complain that it shouldn’t be bigger than theirs. They have unlimited access to the country’s wealth, and it shouldn’t be difficult for them to purchase a super large oven and employ the best chefs to bake a super large cake. If they wish so, no non Malay can stand in the way. I do not know why Umno leaders are not doing so? Instead, they torment their neighbour until the day he/she bakes a smaller cake.

Today most of the Umno Malay tuans have forgotten how to act and talk like a gentleman tuan.

Isabella Bird, in her book, The Golden Chersonese (1883), wrote about the relationship between Hugh Low, the ketuanan British Resident, and the Malays:

It is very interesting and pleasant to see the relations which exist between Mr Low and the Malays. Mr Low is only a little over fifty now, and when he first came, the rajas told him that they ‘were glad that the Queen had sent them an old gentleman’! At this moment three rajas are lying about the veranda, and their numerous followers are clustered on and about the stairs. (Mr Low) never raises his voice to a native, and they look as if they like him, and from their laughter and cheeriness they must be perfectly at ease with him. He is altogether devoted to the interests of Perak and fully carries out his instructions which were ‘to look upon Perak as a native state ultimately to be governed by native rajas’, whom he is to endeavour to educate and advise ‘without interfering with the religion or custom of the country’. He obviously attempts to train and educate these men in the principles and practice of good government, so that they shall be able to rule firmly and justly. (1)

Are today’s tuan, be they, Malays, Chinese, Indians or others, copies of the first acting Resident of Perak, J W W Birch?

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Birch was tactless, dishonest, rude and arrogant. He borrowed large sums of money from the Capitalist farmers in his capacity as Colonel Secretary and with the intention of not returning it. (2)

In fact, he gave lucrative contracts to the Farms when he was acting Resident of Perak. Contracts like collection of duties from the sale of liquor and opium which then were deemed government monopoly. (3)

Apparently all these facts were omitted from history books written by Western historians.

John Simons Atchison, a lawyer, acting on behalf of his client, wrote:

It is stated on undoubted authority (that of the farmers) that the present Colonial Secretary (Birch) is indebted to their Farms in the sum of $5,000 or $6,000 and to Mr. Tan Seng Poh (son of the first Perak Kapitan China) the principal farmer in a sum of over $1,700 and that without security. It is also perfectly well known that this official was indebted to another well known contractor in a sum of $4,500 still unpaid, and has other improper obligations degrading to his office and bringing contempt upon Her Majesty’s Public service. (4)

A letter to the Straits Observer (Singapore), 29 March 1875, critically alleged that:

Weeks ago we said that Mr. Birch was not doing as he was expected to do, and had neither made friends with the Sultan nor the Chiefs, and had disgusted capitalists who wished to make ventures in the new territory… It is well for the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Andrew Clarke’s popularity that he is soon to leave the colony, for His Excellency appears to be fast drifting into the same stream that swamped his predecessor. By placing too implicit confidence in the shallow advisers around him and appointing to offices in the new territory men who are unworthy or unfit, he thus endangers the success of his otherwise well considered policy.” (5)

Unfortunately, Andrew Clarke personified the way our leaders do business today.

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His hallmark of leadership was the “placing too implicit confidence in the shallow advisers around him and appointing to offices…men who are unworthy or unfit”.

Yes, this 139-year old letter cannot express better the predicament that we are in.

(1) N.J.Ryan. Malaya through four centuries. Oxford University Press, 1959. With cooperation from the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar.
(2) Khoo Kay Kim, J.W.W. Birch: A Victorian Moralist in Perak’s Augean Stable?
Journal of the Historical Society, University of Malaya, Volume IV 1965/66).
(3) – ibid.,
(4) – ibid.,
(5) – ibid.

Source: The Malaysian Insider/singchyeblog.blogspot.com

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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