By Wan Saiful Wan Jan
Free Malaysia Today
January 15, 2014
How is it that Umno, a party that has been in power for so long, has suddenly become subservient to these relatively young entities?
Even if you disagree with groups like Perkasa and Isma, I think they really deserve an applause. These two groups have been very effective in their campaigns, to the extent that they cannot be simply dismissed in today’s public discourse.
Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa was set up by Ibrahim Ali soon after the 2008 general election. I don’t think I need to explain who Perkasa is because many readers already know them. Their campaign is centred around defending the rights of the ethnic Malays.
Isma stands for Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia. Those who are familiar with the history of Muslim groups in Malaysia will know that, up to a few yeas ago, the rivalry between the various Malaysian Muslim groups was fierce. And, the contested history is that Isma started off as a splinter from another group, the Jamaah Islah Malaysia (now known as Ikram).
It will take too long to explain the long and convoluted history of Isma properly. But suffice to say that Isma is one of the many Muslim groups that exist in Malaysia today that was inspired by another global movement called the Muslim Brotherhood.
The backgrounds of these two organisations are rather different. But, if we look at their work, they have become potent pressure groups in Malaysia today.
Politically, both organisations claim that they are not answerable to any political party in power. For now, I believe this claim.
Even though many of my friends accuse these groups as being linked to Umno, I personally have not seen any hard evidence to prove an official linkage.
Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that members of these two groups would vote for anybody else but Umno. In Barisan Nasional, the agenda of these two groups resonate only with Umno.
Obviously neither supports any of the Pakatan Rakyat parties. So, as far as political parties are concerned, the only possibility for both groups is Umno.
Despite the absence of official links, both these groups seem to have quite a strong grip on Umno.
I personally feel that these groups have a divisive agenda. But for the purpose of this article, it does not matter whether you agree with their agenda or not.
My point here is, their strategy has been so brilliant, to the extent that their influence on Umno is palpable.
They have been at the forefront of many issues too. Their voices were heard in many major issues, such as PPSMI, the New Economic Model, Malaysian Education Blueprint, Allah debacle, Bible seizure, Syiah in Malaysia, reintroduction of ISA, and many more.
And in many of these, their voices became something that policy-makers cannot ignore.
Malaysian civil society has a lot to learn from the strategies deployed by Perkasa and Isma in influencing public policy. Theirs is an enviable position to be in.
They literally have a governing party delivering their agenda through government.
Nevertheless, the question that has been haunting me is this. How is it that Umno, a party that has been in power for so long, has suddenly become subservient to these relatively young entities?
I have been thinking about this question for some time. And I am afraid my current guess is not a very pleasant one.
I think the rise of these rather unpleasant voices is caused by weak leadership in Umno itself.
Over the last few months alone, we saw so many incidents that threaten to destroy the very fabric of ethnic relations in our country. But the silence of Umno’s top leadership is deafening.
It is as if Umno is scared to say anything that would upset the pressure groups. Worse, even if an Umno leader does say something, usually it was to justify the provocations.
This is a time when we need every person, especially Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his cabinet colleagues, to collectively and publicly denounce actions that could contribute to ethnic strife.
In fact, I will be more specific than that. Since the aggressive stance comes mostly from those who are perceived to be from the wider Umno “family”, a big chunk of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Umno top leaders.
They must publicly denounce these provocations and they must distance the party from these groups too.
Unfortunately, so far, there is utter silence at the top. It would be embarrassing if people start thinking that Malaysia’s real “Number One” today is Ibrahim Ali. Najib needs to rediscover leadership to prevent this from happening.
I am baffled why Najib has not said anything substantive to denounce all the aggression. His 1Malaysia slogan is one that calls for greater unity. He clearly has the right vision. So I do not believe he agrees with the divisive agenda.
That leads to the only other possibility, namely, Najib does not enjoy full support for his national unity agenda.
In other words, it is possible that he is in a weak position and there are others actively undermining him from within. If this is the case, then Malaysia has a very bleak future.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my)