The End looks Nigh for Malaysia’s UMNO


Partyforumseasia:  Political parties come and go, have ups and downs, win and lose elections. In many European countries, party systems which have been stable for many decades disintegrate, previously unthinkable coalitions demand all sorts of difficult compromises. In Germany, the Social Democrats with a history going back to 1863 and many years of dominating in government, are agonizing in federal state elections under 10% and with a helpless leadership. In Malaysia, now, it seems to be the turn of UMNO, the dominant party for over sixty years. On 9 May this year, it lost more than an election. It obviously lost its soul and raison d’etre, its self-confidence and successively all its allies. From a coalition of 13 parties which helped to cement the grip on power for so long, only the former ethnic minority vote banks, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) with only two seats left in the federal parliament, and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) with one, remained after the election. It is like the proverbial rats leaving the sinking ship, a question of survival for all of them. After a recent desperate attempt by UMNO to save the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition through getting the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) on board, the MCA is planning to quit as well.

UMNO’s former strongman and now its president, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who planned to bring PAS into a new credible opposition coalition, is indicted with 45 charges of graft and corruption, following former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his spendthrift wife Rosmah Mansor. They all have not only lost the election and the trust of the voters but are all moving closer to prison. The intricate, complex and corrupt financial network which provided unlimited campaign funding for their  coalition, needs time to be sorted out by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
On 20 October, Umno veteran Razaleigh Hamzah (in the picture on top) launched a book on “The End of UMNO”, edited by Prof. Bridget Welsh, a prominent and outspoken scholar specializing on Southeast Asian politics. But in an interview she cautioned that so far only the Najib-style corrupt UMNO is dead and that the party could survive with new leaders and younger members. These, though, are turning away according to the media.

Meanwhile, Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the new main ruling party, has its own teething problems. Trying to be the democratic model party in contrast to UMNO’s top down style, PKR is now running its internal leadership election. Its 800,000 members can vote over more than two months, and for the first time in an electronic voting system which does not function without glitches all the time. The stakes are high because party president Anwar Ibrahim is supposed to be Prime Minister within the next two years. Once he well be in office, many government positions will be available for the leaders elected now. So, claims of irregularities, even bribing, have been reported, but also violent clashes between rival supporter groups. Malaysia’s changing party landscape will need some time to cool down and normalize.

Malaysia: Competition for UMNO’s Top Job?


VitalstatistixPartyforumseasia: This is “Vitalstatistix”, chief of Asterix’s and Obelix’s village in old Gaul. He is waiting on his shield to be uplifted and reconfirmed as chief…

The extended UMNO leadership seems to be divided over how party chairman Prime Minister Najib Razak should be confirmed this time: uncontested like all UMNO top leaders in the last 26 years…or elected. Competitive party elections can be divisive, sure, and each contender has his or her own enemies and supporters. But such is party politics and competition is normal.

For the next party election later this year, PM Najib seems to have already a potential challenger, UMNO senior statesman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, once called ” the best Prime Minister Malaysia never had”. Because (or despite his age, born in 1937) he might be the right leader to reconcile the UMNO factions and maybe even UMNO and PAS…
RazaleighNajib

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting result of the new competitiveness in Malaysia’s politics are the attempts of UMNO to reduce its internal money politics by enlarging the voter base for the party elections. Increasing the number of members with voting right from 2,500 to 140,000 may indeed make vote buying too expensive and unaffordable even for the richest leaders. But the patronage and pork barrel system will be difficult to eradicate.