By Mariam Mokhtar | FMT
Najib plays different tunes for political purposes but in the process, it is causing a rift in Umno.
At the Selangor Taoist solidarity dinner on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak recalled Tunku Abdul Rahman’s long-term vision and praised him for being “far-sighted in administering a complex nation such as Malaysia”. His remarks were at odds with the opening speech at the 62nd Umno general assembly, a fortnight ago.
The solidarity dinner saw Najib urging Malaysians to emphasise the similarities in their respective religions, for a stronger and more united Malaysia. He espoused universal qualities like courtesy, filial piety, trustworthiness and diligence as shared values.
“If we can emphasise on the common values, then we will have similarities between us. We can develop good citizens regardless whether they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Taoists… what is important is being good citizens who love the nation, are loyal to the country, respect the law and other religions.”
At the Umno party conference, Najib was playing a different tune. He told delegates that if Umno were to lose power, the Malays and their religion would be threatened.
Using the favoured “3R” strategy of race, religion and royalty to win over the dwindling Malay support, he warned: “Who will preserve the sanctity of Islam? Who will protect the Malays and its agenda and who will protect the rulers?”
Najib may have adopted a nationalist leaning at the Umno conference, but he played to the crowd at the Taoist solidarity dinner and related his version of events which prompted the downfall of the Malacca empire 500 years ago.
“It fell not because Malacca lacked warriors or due to poverty, it was overthrown because there was no unity and there were traitors.”
He praised his “1Malaysia” concept of inclusive policies which sought to eradicate poverty regardless of race.
“When the government extended the RM100 (school assistance), every student irrespective of whether he or she is from sekolah kebangsaan, or Chinese, Tamil or religious schools got it, and soon we will give the RM500 assistance to households earning below RM3,000 (per month)”.
Political observers slammed him and said that Najib’s administration was politicising government aid. In mid-November, PKR Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin claimed that students from a primary school in Ampang had to collect their RM100 aid from the Umno division head, at the Umno building.
Investigations by an online newspaper revealed that a directive had been issued by the secretary- general of the Education Ministry Rosli Mohamed, dated Nov 11, which stated that “elected representatives, including members of parliaments, state assemblypersons or leaders from the federal government” were to be present during the disbursement of the aid. Rosli claimed that the decision had come from a Cabinet meeting on Oct 28.
Pressure has been exerted on Najib to recapture the Malay vote for Umno in the 13th general election (13th GE). Last week, in Shah Alam, Najib openly endorsed the Malaysian Missionary and Welfare Association (Pekida) in exchange for their votes, in scenes reminiscent of his infamous “You help me, I help you” plea in the Sibu by-election.
Around 12,000 Pekida members gave Najib their pledge of allegiance after he had promised to help them build a college in Malacca. Earlier, Pekida’s deputy president had openly solicited for funds, to help alleviate its burden and to assist its ayahandas (godfathers) and adik-beradik (lieutenants).
Najib said he was touched by their gesture and urged Pekida’s members to help him secure victory in the 13th GE by warning them of what lay in store, if Umno were to lose.
“Pekida must be ready to defend our administration. We cannot allow the Malays diinjak-injakkan (to be stepped upon) on our own land.” He might have added, “By anyone but Umno.”
Selangor PAS condemned Najib for his ultra-Malay stance and said that he had “forsaken his own wasathiyah (principle of moderation) and “1Malaysia” rhetoric. Selangor PAS deputy commissioner Khalid Samad described Pekida as a “dodgy” organisation which Umno once avoided having official links with.
Khalid said, “His (Najib’s) presence at a Pekida function has shown his ‘hardline’ side, akin to an ‘ultra-Malay’. It is a departure from the wasathiyah or moderation that he once espoused.”
Najib is not averse to extremist rhetoric to stoke nationalist feelings, when he deems it politically expedient.
Besides the pressure from Umno infighting, Najib is trying to curry favour with Umno chief supremo, whom younger Umno delegates affectionately term “the don” – Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib seems oblivious that Umno has ceased to be a party which fights for Malay issues. Both Najib and Umno refused to acknowledge that the younger generation and changing times, mean that Malays have begun to embrace the 21st century.
Nowadays, Umno is characterised by a party with several factions, all vying for power and glory – Najib’s lot, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s bully boys or the militias who still swear allegiance to Mahathir.
They wish to carve up the billions of ringgits in contracts, land grabs and monies siphoned from public institutions, for themselves. They are not concerned about the well-being of the rakyat, nor the interests of the Malays. The party is supposed to uphold the interests of the Malays.
The Malays are only mentioned in passing and come in useful when the leaders need to further their needs. The non-Malays make useful scapegoats to rouse sentiment in the Malays.
Najib’s inability to deal with his split personality may well hasten the split in Umno, and lead to its demise.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.