Advice for Umno

– Aslam Abd Jalil
The Malaysian Insider
1 December 2014

The United Malays National Organisation (Umno) General Assembly 2014 kicked off last week. It was a grand event as always with a total of 2,752 delegates from around the country attending. Let’s put aside how biased the mainstream media was in covering the event, using government machinery like Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) or even private media companies. Thanks to the extensive media coverage though, I had the opportunity to watch live during the speeches delivered by important figures in Umno including the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak as well as Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

On the opening night, Muhyiddin was straightforward in pointing out the problems in Umno. According to him, there are five reasons why youth reject Umno. This includes the fact that the party was facing a trust deficit, a feudal party, practising a “yes-man” culture, being controlled by warlords and a culture of threatening by intimidation. In fact, he pointed out that youth who had great ideas were silenced from speaking out because they did not want to contradict their elders in the party. Due to that, one of the main focuses in this year’s Umno general assembly was how to engage with the youth in a way that Umno still became relevant, to paraphrase Najib’s words.

To be frank, I was initially quite happy to hear all this because the Umno leaders were bold enough to admit that these problems existed. I was interested in their focus on youth engagement. Clearly, Umno is trying hard to get more support from the youth as the voting demographics change. Yes, it is true that theoretically, Umno is not the Malaysian government and the Malaysian government is not Umno. But in reality, Umno dominates the current federal government of Malaysia. Therefore, whatever is in the agenda of Umno is most likely to be in the Malaysian government’s agenda. That is why, being a youth myself, I would like to voice my opinion regarding the youth engagement by Umno.

What struck me was the moment when Najib proudly announced that the Sedition Act 1948 would not just be retained, but also “fortified” although he had promised to abolish it back in 2012. Being a dishonest leader is one thing. Restricting our freedom of speech and expression is another. Based on what is happening with the use of Sedition Act lately, it seems like it has become a tool for the government to silence those who are critical towards them. The prosecution is very selective.

However, this is not only about the Sedition Act 1948 per se. This is about silencing the whole people of Malaysia through the abuse of power. The government can use any laws, including Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Auku) or even scholarship agreements to stop the youth, especially university students or mahasiswa, from criticising them. This has happened to quite a number of mahasiswa including the eight University of Malaya (UM) students recently.

My advice for Umno, if they seriously want to engage with the youth, is that they should stop the culture of intimidation to the mahasiswa. When mahasiswa are vocal towards the government, we are always told to be grateful for what the government has given us and most importantly, we are asked to use the “proper channel”.

It is puzzling to me to get these reactions from the senior members of the ruling Barisan Nasional including Umno. For their information, we are seriously being grateful to God for what we have and what sort of “proper channel” do they mean? Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Oops, if this Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an agenda of so called “human rightism”, let’s refer to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia! Article 10 states that all citizens of Malaysia are entitled to freedom of speech, assembly and association. In fact, most of the time, we are encouraged to question and debate issues pertaining to our beloved country, including when we are overseas using the “proper channels”.

It is fascinating to know the fact that members of 73 overseas Umno clubs or Kelab Umno Luar Negara (KULN) in several countries are always seen to be the patriotic students, and perhaps the clubs are seen as the most “proper channel”. Of course, the clubs have the right to exist. But my main concern is, why is there a double standard of treatment from the government to these student bodies and those students who are critical towards the government policies in other clubs and forums? Don’t all students have the right to participate in our democratic process? Is it wrong to think differently when we are always told to think outside the box?

It is always fine if the students are on the government’s side but it is always a crime to be on another side. This in fact was highlighted by the former deputy minister of higher education and also a senior Umno member, Saifuddin Abdullah. If we are critical towards the government, it is very simplistic and childish to label us as supporters of the opposition when we are critical towards the opposition too. But what is so wrong about having a political stand anyway?

When I received a show-cause notice from the Malaysian Public Service Department (JPA) for participating in academic forums at my former university, I was quite overwhelmed by the support given by everyone, including my Umno friends who were generally mahasiswa. I could sense that my KULN friends also felt that it was not justified that the authorities simply banned students from participating in forums discussing national issues, nor did they agree with what was seen as intimidation by the Special Branch officers. Plus, the accusation of me “being seditious in a way that may harm Malaysia and my educational institution” totally bewildered everyone!

I have many KULN friends and we discuss Malaysian politics from time to time. I am very grateful that we can have fruitful discussions based on our intellectual capacity and not political ideology about the way to move forward as one nation. I can see that the younger generation in Umno, at least in my circle of friends, are more open-minded and tolerant towards different ideas, unlike the majority of the older generation of Umno members. If Umno continues to resist reform, I am afraid that the young generation will lose hope and may leave Umno sooner or later.

If Umno wants to appeal to the youth, they must make sure that equal treatment is given to all mahasiswa in politics as a start. It is a great insult to our intelligence for the government to make a blatant assumption that the younger generation especially mahasiswa cannot think for themselves and always need to be told what to do and what to think. Most importantly, this culture of intimidation towards mahasiswa must stop for Umno to appeal to youth. – December 1, 2014.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Thursday, 4 December 2014 - 1:19 am

    Plz advise UmnoB kaki NOT 2 insult Indian M’sians by using d KeL term
    Seditious lah
    But MIC kaki seem OK – cos they believe UmnoB bosses MUST b correct 1, tok tok tok, kow tow 3X

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Thursday, 4 December 2014 - 12:35 pm

    “To be frank, I was initially quite happy ………..”
    Hai yah, obviously a naive guy so easily FOOLed by UmnoB kaki
    Wake up lah n understand UmnoB’s DNA – veri smart at d art of deception n sweet talk/slogans (but actual actions, just d opposite lah)

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