Former NST boss: Ability, not birthright, should decide Umno’s leadership

PETALING JAYA, Sept 8 — What does Umno want? The question was posed by former New Straits Times editor-in-chief Datuk A. Kadir Jasin in a recent blog post as the country’s biggest political party gears up for elections in December.

The pro-establishment writer said the leadership of the Malay party — which is also the country’s leadership by default as Umno’s anchor position within the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition — should be based on a person’s ability and not his birthright, if its members wished to continue with the aspirations of its former president, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

“Power, he said, lies in the hands of the Malay community and to benefit from that power, intelligent Malays should be among the elite which is determined by ability, attitude and commitment to the country overall,” Kadir said, quoting Abdul Razak in his latest post on his blog The Scribe.

“Class, birthright and money are not major factors,” he added.

Kadir’s opinion appears to suggest a new power to challenge Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the party’s incumbent president and the son of Abdul Razak.

The veteran journalist, who helmed the once-popular daily when the still-influential Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, also questioned whether Umno was still championing the rights of Malays.

Likening the impending Umno elections to a train ride, Kadir said the excitement leading up to the party polls should spread to all its passengers and not just be contained within the locomotive at the front.

“If just the locomotive is hot but the passengers are mopey, unsettled, fed up and disgusted and can’t wait to get off or want a new attractive locomotive, then it is pointless,” he said.

Putting the question to Umno members, Kadir asked if they were in it just to turn a quick trick or dig their heels in and fight for the ideals that form the foundations of Umno.

“If its just to choose leaders and get short-term personal gain, then Umno members don’t need to think so hard. Just choose the ones with deep pockets and shallow principles.

“But if they want a leadership with a patriot’s spirit and capable of restoring the party’s dignity and return to the struggle for the interests of race, religion and country, then they need to choose well.

“If they want the Malays and other bumiputera races to get the chance to free themselves from being third-class economic citizens, they must choose leaders who are intelligent, brave, knowledgable and with vision.

“If they feel that an economic growth policy tagged to equitable division as laid out in the New Economic Policy (NEP) is good for them, they must choose leaders who are not apologetic in pursuing the rights of the majority,” he said.

The NEP was an affirmative action policy, lasting for some two decades, in favour of the Malays and implemented following the deadly May 13 racial riots in Kuala Lumpur.

Shifting his sights on to Najib, Kadir questioned the direction in which the Umno president - who typically assumes the role of Prime Minister - is taking the party and country.

In an apparent swipe at Najib, Kadir asked whether Umno has any heirs to the leadership of the late Abdul Razak, or his deputy the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman or Dr Mahathir.

“After blaming Barisan Nasional’s poor performance on the Chinese tsunami, will Mohd Najib and the Umno leadership thank the Malays and sons of Sarawak and Sabah for saving BN and Umno last May 5 by giving what they have been neglected?” he said, referring to Barisan’s dismal victory in the recent 13th General Election.

“Will Mohd Najib table the Malay agenda, bumiputera agenda and a sustainable agenda for the poor before or during this coming Umno General Assembly?

“Or will Mohd Najib and his advisors (who are as long as a Butterworth-Padang Besar container train) continue to implement their failed GE 2013 ‘war room’ strategy?”

Kadir said it would be wise for Umno idealists who wished to push the Malay agenda and “growth with equity” to only believe in what has already been delivered.

“If someone promises a glass of water, do not believe it until we drink and do not die of poison. The moral is not to easily believe and that we must always have a remedy for poison.

“Insyak-Allah (sic) we are safe, our race is safe, our country is safe and our religion is safe and Malays can say ‘I am Malay first’ without being heckled by the non-Malays,” he said, in an apparent reference to deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Muhyiddin raised a nationwide uproar when he declared in 2010 that he was “Malay first, Malaysian second”, explaining that if he put being Malaysian first, he would be shunned by the Malay community.

This year’s party elections will be a historical first for Umno, as it will be the first time voting will be opened to regular members.

Previously, the party leadership was selected by around 2,500 delegates afforded voting rights. After the party constitution was amended in 2009, voting has since been opened to around 150,000 members.

Nominations for the various posts will be opened on September 28, followed by the party elections on October 19. The party general assembly will be held later in December.