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Is Umno operating in a crowded arena?

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The supposedly multi-ethnic and socialistic Parti Kuasa Rakyat was launched recently while Umno stalwart Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah attempts to revive the Umno Lama (Old Umno).

These developments are a cause for concern for Umno vice-president Mahdzir Khalid, as he feels the political arena in Malaysia is already overcrowded by Malay-based parties. The rural development minister fears it would have the effect of dividing and disuniting the Malays, which, to his mind, is not good for the entire community.

Parti Kuasa Rakyat is led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s older brother Kamarazaman Yaakob.

Malays, Mahdzir reminds, only need Umno, presumably to promote and protect their interests as it normally claims to do.

But the nature of democracy is such that there is freedom of association, which means anybody can form a political party if they have the wherewithal to do so. It is in this political marketplace that parties compete to win the hearts and minds of the electorate in their ultimate desire to occupy the seat of power.

Well, at least theoretically. The newly set up youthful Muda is still struggling to get itself legally registered by the Registrar of Societies, which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Denying the party the right to exist and compete electorally is obviously undemocratic.

Against such a backdrop, it is to the credit of Umno supreme council member Mohd Puad Zarkashi for calling on the government to approve Muda’s registration, adding that the government should not be afraid of Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. It should let such a new party find its place in the political arena.

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In expressing his concern, Mahdzir appears presumptuous to imply that Umno should have the monopoly over the political support and loyalty of the Malay community in this day and age.
Or to put it another way, Malays are to be seen as if they are, rather incorrectly, a monolithic collective.

Like any other ethnic communities, there is clearly diversity within the Malay community itself. The fact that Umno itself is divided, especially now, speaks volumes about purported Malay unity. For instance, there are Malays who buy into ethno-religious nationalism while there are others who are multi-ethnic and inclusive in their outlook. And there are those who steal while others simply abhor such a misdeed.

If there is a need for unity among the Malays, they should be mainly united around the vital principles of justice, trust, compassion and empathy for the poor and suppressed, and freedom.

These are precious principles that could also unite Malaysians of other ethnic origins – an all-Malaysian approach to unity. This explains why there are also Malay politicians who lead or join parties that have a universal Malaysian appeal.

As for the supposed crowding of the political domain, it is not as congested as it is made out to be because, qualitatively and ideologically, many of the Malay-based parties have the similar mantra of “Malay race, religion and country”. In other words, Umno finds itself having to compete with other parties that also profess to fight for the Malays – staying afloat with others in the same pond.

Many things have been said and done over the years in the name of the Malay race, often leaving many of the poor Malays, as well as other bumiputeras, wondering why they are still left behind socioeconomically.

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This is why in order to survive politically, parties such as Umno may want to differentiate themselves from others by making a greater and determined effort to serve the poor and marginalised, not the rich and powerful elite.

After all, many of the vulnerable and desperate are by now able to distinguish between the genuine and fake commitments of politicians to serve the ordinary people in the wake of the Covid epidemic.

Perhaps it would be useful for us all to ponder whether the political domain is instead congested with certain politicians who put their vested interests above the people’s. – The Malaysian Insight

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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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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