Umno, what price loyalty?

Dennis Ignatius
17 Dec 2015

COMMENT | Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, hounded by scandal and facing open rebellion within his ranks, made an impassioned plea at his party’s general assembly last week for unity and support. He demanded loyalty and obedience from all. He invoked God, race and country to justify his leadership.

But what price loyalty and obedience?

Great leaders appeal for support on the basis of a great cause, in defence of righteous principles or to uphold great ideals. They inspire support by their vision, by their integrity, by their example, by their commitment to great national goals.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, for example, in his nation’s darkest hour, inspired his countrymen to stand firm against Nazi tyranny despite the odds. Mahatma Gandhi summoned his nation to the great ideals of tolerance and respect for diversity and human dignity.

President John F Kennedy appealed, in his inaugural address, for sacrifice and commitment to make America that shining light upon a hill, an inspiration to the world. Nelson Mandela urged a nation divided by decades of apartheid to reconcile, to build a new nation based on justice and inclusiveness.

They invited their countrymen to join them in a great quest, and millions freely and willingly rallied to them.

Despots, dictators and demagogues, on the other hand, bankrupt of vision, devoid of principle, blinded by avarice and ambition, demand mindless obedience, blind loyalty and passive submission.

They create imaginary threats to cover up their misdeeds and invoke race and religion to justify their oppressive rule. Criticism becomes a crime. Dissent is equated with disloyalty. Opposition is considered sedition. If you are not with them, you are against them.

They boast of popular support, of working for the common good, but depend upon repressive laws to stay in power. The more authoritarian they become, the more laws they need.

And the yearning of every human being for liberty and justice which people throughout history have fought and died to gain and keep, suddenly becomes a sinister and dangerous thing that needs to be eradicated like the plague.

Last week’s general assembly made clear what type of party Umno has become and what it now stands for.

Devoid of moral compass

One would have thought, for example, that at such a crucial time in our nation’s history – when our nation is beset with scandal, corruption and chicanery in high places, when our national institutions have been hollowed out, when corruption and mismanagement is rampant, when our constitutional rights are under threat, when racial and religious extremism is growing, when our citizens are increasingly hard-pressed to make ends meet – that the governing party would be seized by high policy issues and anxious to restore confidence and hope to a beleaguered nation.

Instead, we were treated to meaningless hubris, empty rhetoric and mendacious propaganda. They took pride in all the wrong things. They regurgitated tired old formulas, cheered the absurd, applauded bigotry and ended with feudalistic appeals for fealty and submission to a leader who has become a liability to our nation.

In the light of all that has transpired, particularly over the last several months, party members would have had to abandon their own integrity to answer their leader’s call for obedience and loyalty, to declare him “the chosen one” as one witless delegate gushed.

That so many did so demonstrates once again why the party doesn’t deserve the mantle of leadership that it has claimed as its birthright since independence and why its continued rule is detrimental to the well-being of our nation.

It is a party without vision, without principle, without a clear moral compass. It no longer cares to govern by the rules of parliamentary democracy. It is no longer interested in forging genuine national unity. And it is no longer competent to be entrusted with the management of our economy.

We are adrift and it has no answers, no solutions. It is too stuck in its feudal past, too trapped by its own insecurities, too seduced by its own power to offer the kind of leadership our nation so desperately needs.

Don’t expect reform for this is a party that no longer has the capacity or the will to change. The leaven of its now rebellious former president has worked itself deep into the party, strangling it of its democracy, its decency, its principles. It’s all about self-preservation, self-interest and self-enrichment now.

Don’t look for saviours from its ranks either because there are none to be found.

Former leaders are united only in their dislike for each other. They hem and haw but don’t have the courage of their convictions to slay the monster they helped create. The so-called next generation of leaders, for their part, are already too enmeshed in the culture of privilege and patronage to be any different. If they have not found the conviction to act now, they never will.

Cry, my beloved country, cry!

DENNIS IGNATIUS, a former Malaysian ambassador, firmly believes that we should put our trust not in the leadership of great men but in the sanctity of great institutions – our secular and democratic constitution, a democratically elected parliament, an independent judiciary, a free press and a government fully accountable to the people. He blogs here.

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