UMNO’s Reform Must Begin With Najib Razak

by M. Bakri Musa

It is not enough for Najib Razak and other UMNO leaders to lament the loss of their party’s “wow” factor, or for them to endlessly exhort the party faithful to “re-invent” or “re-brand” their organization. Reform is like sex; merely talking about it is not enough, for without the necessary accompanying actions it will only increase your frustration.

To regain voters’ confidence, the change in UMNO must begin with its top leaders, specifically Najib. He has to demonstrate it through his actions; anything less and he risks frustrating voters and replicating the electoral disasters of Permatang Pauh and Kuala Trengganu nationally.

First and foremost Najib must legitimize his rise to the party’s top position. Being “promoted” by Abdullah Badawi is no endorsement, being that he is a discredited leader. Likewise, being nominated unopposed is no ratification either, especially when the process is hopelessly riddled with “money politics,” otherwise known as corruption.

Second, Najib must display a sense of enlightened leadership. For example, expending his precious time and political capital by intensively campaigning in a by-election that in his own words “would not alter the nation’s political landscape” was neither necessary nor prudent. With the nation facing many critical crises, he should focus on more substantive matters.

Last, Najib must demonstrate that he has the personal qualities and moral integrity to lead the nation. Merely denying that he had nothing to do with Saiful Bukhari, that college dropout who alleged that he had been sodomized by the opposition leader, or that Najib knew nothing of the brutal murder of that Mongolian model Altantuya and the attendant involvement of his hitherto closest advisor Razak Baginda, is not enough. The public deserves better; we demand a more thorough accounting.

Until then, any utterance by Najib Razak about reforming UMNO will ring hollow; do not frustrate voters by unnecessarily raising their expectations. That is dangerous.

Legitimizing Najib’s Leadership

Najib’s only claim to his party’s leadership is that he is currently unopposed for that position. Where the process is open and transparent, being unopposed signifies unanimous approval. That is certainly any leader’s dream and rightful claim of legitimacy.

UMNO’s nominating process however, is deeply flawed, apart from being corrupt. The “unanimous” choice of Najib is anything but. The process is hollow and meaningless. With “money politics” rampant, Najib’s nomination “victory” is irredeemably tainted.

The current nominating process is designed specifically to discourage or more correctly, prevent challengers. It is not a genuine contest. Requiring candidates be nominated by at least 30 percent of the party’s 191 divisions effectively means that at most there can only be three nominees. That is an unnecessary barrier, meant not to get the best talent but to protect the incumbent.

This requirement was put in place only 20 years ago, following the bitter and divisive Mahathir-Tengku Razaleigh rivalry. Before that, and for the first 40 years of UMNO’s existence, its leaders including Bapak Merdeka Tunku Abdul Rahman and the much-revered Tun Razak (Najib’s father) were routinely challenged at the party’s leadership convention.

The party can do without this burdensome nomination “quota rule” as well the equally damaging no-challenge “tradition” for its two top positions. The party’s Supreme Council however, could override both. While many of its senior members are in favor of dumping this onerous rule, Najib remains “neutral.” That is not the mark of someone confident of his leadership ability.

If Najib were to introduce a motion at the next Supreme Council meeting to remove this “quota rule,” that would greatly enhance his legitimacy even if the Council were to vote against it. If the Council were to vote for it, then the party would benefit by opening up the process and the delegates getting to preview many more potential candidates.

Such an open process would also effectively blunt the current corrosive influence of “money politics” as there would be no need to bribe divisional leaders in order to secure your nomination. And at the party’s elections, with over 2,000 delegates, it would be difficult if not impossible to bribe them all. You could influence them only with your ideas and talent, as it should be.

Removing the quota would of course invite challengers to Najib. Tengku Razaleigh would definitely be one; there may be others. There would also be additional candidates for all the other positions.

If Najib were to survive a challenge from Tengku Razaleigh for example, Najib’s stature and legitimacy would be greatly enhanced. That would effectively shut up his many critics.

Of course Najib could lose, and with that, his political career. That may explain his reluctance to tamper with the current quota rules which work in his favor. While such a maneuver would secure his immediate political survival, he would critically jeopardize his party’s chance in the next national elections. Presently many, and not just those outside of UMNO and Barisan, question his ability and legitimacy. Najib would be sacrificing his party’s future just to ensure his short-term political survival.

Articulating His Vision

Even if Najib were to prevail in an open contest, he still needs to articulate his vision for the future of our nation. He has to convince us that he has “the right stuff.” He has to give us his personal manifesto, as it were. And he has to do that now before his party’s convention in March, for at that time he would be more concerned with rallying his troops.

The prevailing perception is that Najib owes his current position merely by being the son of a famous father. To non-Malays specifically, Najib has yet to erase the ugly image of the keris-taunting antics of his UMNO Youth’s days. Additionally his career, while long, is very narrow; he spent his entire adult life in government, getting his paycheck from taxpayers.

Like his immediate predecessor Abdullah Badawi, there is nothing substantial to Najib’s career in politics despite his overflowing resume. His tenure as Defense Minister was marked by the collapse of the Pularek Naval Base just before its official opening, the gross breach of security by the Al Muanah gang at the Grik Army base in Perak, and the now evolving scandal with the French submarine purchase. As for his legacy as Education Minister, good luck in discerning that.

Now as Finance Minister, he remains disturbingly quiet; he has nothing to offer on how to solve the grave economic challenges facing us except to issue bland, meaningless reassurances.

In contrast, Tengku Razaleigh bravely outlined his views of the current economic crisis and his bold strategies to deal with it. Compared to the towering leadership of the Tengku, Najib looks like a novice Boy Scout troop leader constantly looking to his manual on how to lead.

Demonstrating His Integrity

Lastly, Najib must clarify the many sordid allegations and rumors implicating him. Bland denials alone are not enough.

The most damaging, and which requires the most detailed explanation, is his role in (if any) or knowledge of the murder of the Mongolian model and the involvement of his confidant Razak Baginda. That Razak Baginda was acquitted does not clear the matter.

The accusations leveled at Najib are too specific and detailed (including specific SMS texts and cell phone numbers) that they demand a more complete explanation from him. Hiding behind client-attorney privilege as Najib did in trying to dismiss the many SMS between him and Shafie Abdullah, the attorney who was at the time representing Razak Baginda, is inappropriate. For one, Najib was not Shafie’s client, then or now. Indeed at that time Shafie was representing Razak Baginda, until he (Razak) dismissed Shafie. For another, such a “cover” would not sell in the court of public opinion.

Those details of the Altantuya murder, as well as the sordid mess of the Saiful Bukhari sodomy allegation, will eventually be revealed bit by bit in their respective criminal trials. A full disclosure now by Najib would help preempt the inevitable excruciating and embarrassing details.

Najib Razak may become the leader of UMNO and thus Malaysia’s next Prime Minister come this March without bothering to address these three issues. However, the next General Elections will be less than 48 months away after he becomes Prime Minister. If not addressed frontally and openly now, these questions about his ability, integrity and legitimacy would only get worse. Yes, Najib may get his wish, but he could also end up being the nation’s shortest-serving leader, for come the next national election, Najib and UMNO will be buried.

That would be quite a legacy for the son of a great patriot. Perversely then, Najib’s political demise would of necessity trigger and be instrumental in UMNO’s reform. By that time it may be too late to alter UMNO’s fate, but at least you would have fun knowing that you are doing something productive.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 9:28 am

    Najib change? He better begin with his wife. I vomit each time Rosmah goes on TV and ask for donation for Gaza given her famous shopping trips. Someone told me that even the pearl chain she wore on the TV ad were part of some multi-million dollar shopping spree….

  2. #2 by Tonberry on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 10:04 am

    It is always easier to give advice than it is to put it into practice.
    To ask Najib to change, is like asking him to move a mountain.

  3. #3 by NOT DUMB MALAYSIAN on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 10:48 am


    UMNO is like a cancer patient racked by extensive and non-surgically removable procedure.

    So the obvious, the will of the people will march inxorably to vote UMNO out of oblivbion and into total and absolute irrelevancy and time will consign them into the dung heap of history.


    For too long now, UMNO has portrayed itself as the arrogant party guilty and tainted by massive corruption and money politics has long past the stage that it can reinvent itself. The only way is to gracefully receive the death sentence that Syed Hamid talks about [Star 26 Jan 09] . He knows that the death sentence had been passed in the 2008 GE. The bye-elections are only restatements of a historical fact that UMNO IS DEAD. Even the MALAYS REJECTS UMNO.


    So how do you reform a terminally-ill cancer patient? Maybe Syed Hamid in his nightmare saw one. If so, pray share.

  4. #4 by k1980 on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 10:52 am

    There’s only one way to change Jibby Boy.. and that’s with C4

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 11:10 am

    //Such an open process would also effectively blunt the current corrosive influence of “money politics” as there would be no need to bribe divisional leaders in order to secure your nomination. And at the party’s elections, with over 2,000 delegates, it would be difficult if not impossible to bribe them all. You could influence them only with your ideas and talent, as it should be.// – M. Bakri Musa.

    Like what ideas and talent will wow the over 2,000 delegates – some examples???

  6. #6 by monsterball on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 11:48 am

    Why must Malaysians care whether UMNO or Najib change for the better or worst?
    Does it mean…if Najib pleases Malaysians now….we should vote for UMNO again….next election?
    A leopard cannot change it’s spots. So is UMNO…but Najib can be an disguise himself be someone else… changing for the better…what’s next…Bakri Musa?
    There is no doubt in my mind…such writer like Bakri Musa is pro UMNO and think UMNO should rule forever.
    So….keep discussing about UMNO future leader….let youngsters read.and hope to get commentators to discuss….being trapped to somewhat feel….how important UMNO is to Malaysian lives.
    I have only one comment.
    Their time is up.
    No other developed country in the world..will have on party rule more than 50 years….except Malaysia…due solely to their out-dated race and religion control minds and divide to rule.
    Change it…to have a Malaysian Malaysia dream come true.

  7. #7 by drngsc on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 12:22 pm

    The country is at a cross road. A few questions need to be answered.

    1. Can UMNO change?
    2. Will UMNO change?
    3. Is PR for real? Will they last or become BN like?

    Oh God, please help us.

  8. #8 by wanderer on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 1:13 pm

    Can you ask a baby not to cry. Expect DPM to change, it will be the day when the sun rises from the west.
    52 years of BN rule has implanted the seeds of corruption, racialism and divisions and he is an active player to establish this evil empire.
    God save Bolehland and nothing will change Najib!

  9. #9 by k1980 on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 1:30 pm

    Why is the mamaktiak so quiet? He should come forward and claim that Kugan’s bruises were self-inflicted. And the PM “for all malaysians” has nothing to say?

  10. #10 by rockdaboat on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 3:51 pm

    Who cares whether NR, UMNO or BN reform or not???
    It’s too late!!!
    Rakyat now only interested in kicking out BN in the next election!!!

  11. #11 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 4:34 pm

    I don’t see any change can come about in UMNO. They Divisional chiefs control the current system and even the pPresident could not get out their grips. He would need them to agree that the President , say could be elected by all their members thus rendering the DCs toothless. This would never happen! As this change could not take place, the only outcome is to wait for its demise at the GE.
    In spite of the results of the last two By-elections, no an iota of murmur to seek change is sounded. In this world, it is funny to note that while many from the outside saw the need to change, many from the inside could not even smell it.
    Hence, at times I believe in the world of KARMA, in the past they would say the mandate from above had gone.
    So we can only wait and see the show unfolding at the right time.

  12. #12 by computation on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 5:15 pm

    it is a joke to even want or hope
    that the current deputy prime minister
    can reform anything.
    the allegations against him are so serious.
    he shouldn’t even be in the government

  13. #13 by lee wee tak_ on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 5:20 pm

    it is a painful indictment against UMNO as a political party brimming with talent as they can only come out with Najib as the sole candidate to take over the leadership

    no internal contest either mean the rest of the party are dumb ass or there is an iron fist somewhere or it is not important who lead but what is important is the gravy train still runs….

    Najib’s track record as Education Minister or Defense Minister might be loss on us but let’s look at how he is doing so far as the F Minister

    1) read out a different budget and avoid debating about the one read by Badawi

    2) attempt but fail to rush through privatisation of IJN

    3) disbursement of the RM7billion economic stimulus plan via the Great Kuala Terengganu Lucky Draw and dead man’s ang pow program to certain oh so lucky schools

    4) now, the great unique air port construction project in Labu where all passengers willget Flight Experience not available anywhere else in the world – we have 2 airports within 10km of each other and we get our money’s worth by having our pilots exercising the best of their skills in trying to twist away from each other….and this made so land owners very happy too! The latest is that this airport thing might not go ahead…

  14. #14 by Loh on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 6:33 pm

    Sorry, off topic

    ///Maybe by freedom of the [British] Press they mean allowing the Press to pick and choose what they wish to publish. Yet they talk about self-censorship in Malaysia. What our papers fail to report is nothing compared to what the British and American media fail to report. Obviously they are protecting Israel’s interest.///– TDM

    The papers in Malaysia run the risks of not getting their licences renewed and that conditioned them on what to report, and what not to. It was not a case of newsworthiness, as might be decided by the press. Obviously Malaysians would prefer that the press are allowed to report what actually happen in the country, so that they can be better informed on how to select the government. What happen outside the country can easily be known from other sources.

    BBC TV news reports the war in GAZA every morning.

  15. #15 by vsp on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 9:15 pm

    Change, change, change! Najib, Muhidin, botak Hamid Albar and other politicians from the BN are now riding on the change bandwagon hoping that the magic of Obama mania would somehow rub off on them.

    Have you notice what each of them is trying to say? I am perfect, others have to change? Sweet melody but lousy execution.

  16. #16 by negarawan on Monday, 26 January 2009 - 10:55 pm

    Reform, transform, reinvented….these terms do not apply to UMNO. UMNO is so rotten and diseased that it has to be annihilated without a trace for the sake of the country.

  17. #17 by sirrganass on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 12:37 am

    Common stance within PR – all of us 100% agree with this issue (Pas, DAP and PKR share the same idea): NAJIB SHOULD BUCK-UP FIRST (shape up or ship out!)

  18. #18 by alaneth on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 12:41 am

    Be the CHANGE we can believe in…..

    … or else we just vote PR.

  19. #19 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 4:55 am

    “First and foremost Najib must legitimize his rise to the party’s top position. Being “promoted” by Abdullah Badawi is no endorsement, being that he is a discredited leader. Likewise, being nominated unopposed….” Bakri Musa

    There is no requirement for Najib to ‘legitimize’ his boss’s endorsement of him to the number two position. Few people are aware that the post of Deputy Prime Minister is not even mentioned in our Federal Constitution of 1957. Article 43 only makes mention of the post of Prime Minister and “other Ministers”.

    As we know, tradition has it that the president and deputy president of UMNO both succeed to hold the office of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. But when power to appoint his deputy is an unfettered one and subject to his personal discretion according to the party’s constitution, it invites abuse.

    What happens then when a deputy’s personal life has become the subject of so much controversy that he is unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister? Is there a constitutional remedy involving a position which has no roots in the country’s constitution?

  20. #20 by Loh on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 5:47 pm

    A national leader must be clean and must be seen to be clean, and he should be holding the position for the interest of the nation rather than for his own interest or out of his entitlement. If that premise is acceptable, then the question before us is whether there is no other person in the country or from UMNO who would be able to perform as well as Najib as PM? Assuming that Najib is the most talented can UMNO not find somebody who might be as talented as Najib but who has the advantage of doing his job without distraction on the need to convince the people that he was clean? Indeed no amount of resources put up by law enforcement agencies would be able to convince the people that Najib did not know the late Atlantuja, and that became important because Najib found it proper to swear to that.

    The reform in UMNO should begin with removing Najib. Najib can never remove doubts from the mind of the people, and it is futile to hope that he would ever change, and undertake reforms on the party. To hope for that eventually is to accept that Najib is entitled to the post because his father started the mission of Ketuanan Melayu.

    Malaysians who are not UMNO members simply hope that UMNO will no longer be in power, and is hopefully dissolved.

  21. #21 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 10:08 pm

    Indeed with so much baggage he is forced to carry around, he will be distracted by public opinion, that of his own cabinet colleagues, world leaders to be able to focus on his job. It is already having its impact. I never heard him giving public speeches like a mad man before! The guy is fighting for his life – not just for his country.

    Maybe he is innocent of the crime he has been alleged to commit by public opinion. But that is irrelevant.

    I call upon UMNO both the leadership and the rank and file to put national interests above everything else. If he is slotted to be Prime Minister is there anything in the way of the country’ s Constitution and the party’s that could put a stop to it.

    It is not about justice to one man. It is about justice to the many.

  22. #22 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 - 10:39 pm

    Should NR become the next PM of Malaysia, he is appointed by Umno, not by the rakyat.

    How can NR be the PM of Malaysia? People should visit this site:
    (written in his honor) to see all his dirty linen washed in public.

    Quote – In the midst of UMNO’s internal crisis in 1987, a rally by UMNO Youth led by Najib was held in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. Anti-Chinese sentiments were expressed openly during the rally with placard carrying slogans like “May 13 has begun”, and “Soak (the kris) in Chinese blood”.

    This is the true color of the racist Umnoputra who now claimed to want to look after all Malaysians!

  23. #23 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 - 1:42 am

    During this festive season, we see all the evil faces of Umnoputras being covered by smiley masks. And we hear lies, more lies, and nothing but lies!

    Bernama reported: “In the spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect among component parties of the Barisan Nasional (BN), state Umno leaders attended the Chinese New Year open house organised by Penang Gerakan at its headquarters in Jalan Macalister here.

    Penang Umno Liaison Committee secretary Datuk Azhar Ibrahim, when asked whether the presence of the Umno leaders showed that the leaders of the two parties had made peace, said Umno had never quarrelled with but respected all component parties in the BN as well as all communities in the country.”

    By George, or more appropriately in this current Year of the Ox, holy cow, the hypocrisy of the racist Umno leaders makes my hair stand on end!

    They thought people have forgotten the recent vivid images of Umnoputras jumping like monyet on tables to get hold of KTK’s portrait and then decapitating KTK right in front of reporters and Umnoputras.

    If we believe that Umno had never quarrelled with but respected all component parties in the BN as well as all communities in the country, then pigs can fly!!

    People wonder why Umnoputras, being Muslims, MUST lie and lie! Furthermore, Umnoputras are so deeply stuck in money politics and corrupt practices. Are they religious? Obviously they do not believe in Rukunegara. So sad!

  24. #24 by chengho on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 - 7:59 am

    Najib must follow the pragmatism of LKY and Tun M to govern
    you are not running a popular song contest to get popular and you are not on American Idol programme try to please everyone…
    LKY have a famous say ; i have not hesitate to use karate chop when neccessary…..what is paramount is the agenda of Malaysia…

  25. #25 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 - 8:36 am

    /// Reform is like sex; merely talking about it is not enough, for without the necessary accompanying actions it will only increase your frustration. ///

    Like sex, sometimes, some people have no choice, but to talk only as the necessary accompanying actions may prove too difficult. The head and heart may be willing, but the flesh is flagging – and that will really increase their frustration. Some have to resort to chemicals (Viagra, Cialis and C4) to achieve their explosive climax.

  26. #26 by ktteokt on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 - 3:05 pm

    Boh-liao, forget about the RUKUNEGARA! It was just some primary school kid’s essay which was adopted by the BN Parliament after the May 13 riots to calm down Chinese sentiments and which BN NEVER intend to implement!!!!! What “membina masyarakat yang adil”, “sebuah negara maju berasaskan sains dan teknologi”, etc…. And because they could not realize the objectives of the RUKUNEGARA, they are now out to deceive the younger generations! Take a look at what is printed at the back of school exercise books and you will realize that the RUKUNEGARA has been BUTCHERED! They only show the five principles and have totally omitted the preamble!!!!! This is perhaps because they are afraid some “smart alec” student may turn back one day and ask the Minister of Education what the preamble of the RUKUNEGARA meant!!!

  27. #27 by Loh on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 - 6:46 pm

    In 1987, as UMNO Youth Chief, Najib declared in a speech that he vowed to bathe keris in Chinese blood. He will have to declare now whether that remains his intention. Surely, he cannot be a Prime Minister for Chinese in Malaysia when he vowed to bathe keris in Chinese blood.

    If Najib intends to withdraw those words, he might do it under oath, like he said he did not know Atlantuya. Whether the Chinese would ever trust him is quite a different matter.

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