May 27, 2014
In ancient days, kings claimed that they had a divine right to rule, and that they were accountable only to God. They thought that they and the country were one and the same, and that everything and everyone belonged to them.
They could confiscate your lands and wealth, or they could give you property and riches. They could lock you up in the Tower, or make your dreams come true. It was all up to them. King Louis XIV, who ruled France for 72 years, famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” – I am the country.
And so it is with Umno. Because it has ruled Malaysia continuously since independence in 1957, Umno has come to believe that it, the government, and the nation are all one and the same.
Because it is the self-proclaimed defender of the Malay race – a people whom Umno says are still constantly under threat despite 57 years of protecting their interests – Umno thinks that all Malays should support it.
If a Malay does not, then they risk being denied business and educational opportunities, tried for sedition, or even branded as a “traitor,” as Umno Wanita leader Shahrizat Abdul Jalil brazenly suggested DAP candidate Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud was one last week.
Foreigners who criticise the authoritarian ways of the Malaysian government, such as myself, are labeled “anti-Malaysia.” Some, like Australian senator Nick Xenophon, are denied entry; others, as I discovered during my recent visit to Malaysia, just two weeks after United States President Barack Obama came, are on a “watch list.”
Because Umno has been in control of the government for nearly six decades – reportedly longer than any other political party in the world – it probably is understandable that they have come to think that party and government are one and the same, and that what belongs to the government also belongs to the party.
But in a parliamentary system, the political party or coalition that won a majority of votes is asked to “form” the government. They do not “become” the government. The word “form” has a special definition in this regard: it means “to compose” or “to serve as” the government.
There is a clear recognition, which is lost on most Umno politicians, that the party is only “the government of the day.” The party does not “own” the government, its personnel, or its resources.
Abuses of gov’t resources
The election campaign in Teluk Intan has provided a number of examples of Umno’s confused mind, and how it misuses government resources for the ruling coalition’s political benefit. It is a case study in how Malaysia’s electoral system is tilted against opposition candidates.
Here are just a few examples that I have found in the past few days; I am sure Malaysiakini’s readers will find more in the days ahead.
Umno information chief Ahmad Maslan used a school for a political gathering and said, “I do not see why I cannot hold a ceramah here. I am a BN deputy minister. This is a government school.”
Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi campaigned before an official gathering of government paramilitary members, Rela, and turned it into a political party rally. He said, “I promise that if (the BN candidate) Mah (Siew Keong) wins, I shall immediately buy you new uniforms.”
Zahid also said Teluk Intan would get a constituency allocation from the government of RM1 million, but only if the voters elected Mah. He bluntly informed them, “I don’t have to tell you how much you stand to lose if you choose others.”
In that same Rela gathering, Zahid said chillingly, “In the 13th general election, 2,019 Rela members did not vote. I checked one by one, and I know who did not go out to vote. We must make sure they vote this time around.”
Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said his ministry is prepared to improve broadband facilities in Teluk Intan, but only if it is represented by a BN representative.
Bernama, the government-owned wire service, had an article that sought to label Dyana as an outsider to Teluk Intan. Far from balanced, it had five quotes calling her a carpetbagger, one neutral quote, and no one speaking in her defence.
Separation of party and state
Malaysia is a member of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organisation of 164 parliaments around the world. In 1994, the IPU adopted a Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections.
Among other points, it said that its member states, such as Malaysia, should “ensure the separation of party and state.” This, of course, is something that Umno and the Malaysian government have failed to do for years.
All this brings us back to the encounter between Shahrizat and Dyana the other day.
Shahrizat (right, sitting) believed that Dyana, as a Malay and a graduate of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UiTM), is obligated to support Umno. If not, then she is a “traitor.”
Dyana brilliantly countered, saying that not all Malays support Umno. Going to UiTM does not require you to support Umno; UiTM is funded by taxpayers of all races and not just those who voted for Umno.
Shahrizat, rejected by the voters in 2008 and surrounded by the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal, still holds a prominent position in Umno as head of Wanita. She reminds me of everything that is wrong with today’s “Umno culture,” with its focus on greed and self-interest that holds Malaysia back from reaching its true potential.
But young people like Dyana give me hope for the future. She has shown me and so many others that there are many young Malaysians – Chinese and Indians and Malays – who truly believe in the Malaysian dream and want only the best for all of the country’s people, regardless of race or religion.
JOHN MALOTT is former US ambassador to Malaysia.