Malaysia: “Fortress” UMNO threatened by Own Supporters?


Partyforumseasia: As the saying goes, with certain friends you don’t need enemies. One possibly dangerous ally of Malaysia’s ruling party UMNO is the support group Perkasa, founded in 2008. It is supposed to have a membership of over 400.000, but probably a majority among them are also UMNO members. Perkasa has been established to defend the leading role of the country’s Malay population and their special rights, enshrined in Article 153 of the constitution. Privileges for the Malays and other indigenous groups (called together “Bumiputera” or sons of the soil) go back to colonial times. The British had imported Chinese and Indian labor in big numbers, but later the decisive division became more economic and social with predominantly rural Malays and more affluent city dwellers from the immigrant minorities. Unfortunately, the imbalance is persisting until today despite all quotas and support programs of successive UMNO-led governments.
Najib Nov.   The big strategic challenge for Prime Minister Najib is the necessity to reform certain outdated provisions like the sedition act and others to win over more votes from the minorities on one hand, and at the same time convince the Malay clientele that he will not touch their privileges. After winning the last election with only 48% of the popular vote with the help of a lopsided election law, Najib faces  challenges now from both sides. And on top of that his pre-predecessor Mahathir, who has already toppled his own direct successor, is increasingly critical vis-a-vis Najib. Dr. M
In this difficult situation Perkasa is not exactly a helpful support group but pours constantly oil in the fire. Their initiatives against perceived and alleged Chinese, Indian, or Christian threats against the Malay and Muslim majority increase all the latent tensions. The minorities are frightened of Muslim criminal law (hudud) for all, hairsplitting controversies about who may use the word Allah and the distribution of bibles in Malay as well as many other gross exaggerations coming from Perkasa.
Strategy-wise the organization threatens to be much more of a liability than a support group and undermines the Prime Minister’s efforts to reduce the tensions and deep divisions after the 2013 election. Asking him now before the UMNO convention to drop most of the so-called “liberal” reforms amounts to stabbing him in the back. And Perkasa adviser Mahathir should carefully weigh the doses of vitriol he pours on Najib.

“Silverbacks” or Orang Utans – The Leadership Enigma in Southeast Asia


Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.

Partyforumseasia: The latest Economist (September 27th, p. 67) compares leadership “qualities” in the corporate world with dominant behavior among gorillas: Gorilla“IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body.”
OK, so much for the corporate world. Is it very different on the political stage? We had taken up the issue some time ago with the good looks of Yingluck Shinawatra, which certainly helped her to get accepted as Prime Minister of Thailand but didn’t protect her against being toppled as perceived proxy of her brother Thaksin.
Political leadership is probably related to a certain degree to “silverback” features from the gorilla world, but there are many exceptions to the list. From Napoleon to Sarkozy and many others, short politicians have been successful. The touch of grey in thick, lustrous hair? Not necessarily, Putin is nearly bald. Handsome or beautiful faces? Perhaps an asset but not necessarily. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao or Nixon were far from impressing by their features but mesmerizing men and many women alike.
There are research results in political psychology looking into why some politicians seem to be more trustworthy than others at first glance. The test persons (mostly students) had just one or two seconds to watch the picture and rate it.
The spoken word is another powerful tool to impress voters and citizens, and, obviously much more based on the way it is expressed than dependent on the content. On that background the astounding catching-up-campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia and the final victory of least gorilla-style politician Joko Widodo are remarkable. Was it the aura of credibility against strongman posturing?

Partyforumseasia would very much appreciate comments and contributions to the leadership enigma in Southeast Asia. It is a region with gentle orang utans, not chest thumping gorillas.