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MGG: Xenophobia at the UMNO meet
By M.G.G. Pillai
30/6/2001 2:30 am Sat
01-15 July 01
Xenophobia at the UMNO meet
By M.G.G. Pillai
Dr Mahathir has turned UMNO general assemblies into one of
his own creation. With 20 years experience of it, he has become
a past master in directing the delegates to rise up in xenophobic
support. He tells them what they want to hear. None of his
speeches at these gatherings can stand close muster. In fact, he
has had the same theme year after year. He talks to the gallery,
and they rise in enthusiastic support.
The debates are scripted to the last detail. Speakers are
chosen for their ability to entertain, to make irrelevant
comments on issues of the day, to send the delegates home happy
in the belieft that everything is in safe hands. When the going
gets rough, as this year when too many issues he did not want
discussed had to be sidetracked, he attacked the foreigner and
the Chinese and Indians. Xenophobia is an attractive option in
any Malay crowd to rouse them to injured anger. This UMNO meet
was no exception.
UMNO Youth calls to stop building Chinese and Tamil schools.
The Prime Minister and UMNO president, Dato' Seri Mahathir
Mohamed, denies it, but fans the xenophobic flames by attacking
Chinese newspapers for ensuring the National Front's defeat in
the Lunas byelection. The home minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi, says his minister tracks all newspapers and if any
breaches the law, their editors are hauled up and told.
So, when Dr Mahathir attacked the Chinese newspapers, it was
more than the bearer of bad tidings attacked; it was to rouse
the gathering to believe that its electoral failure in Lunas was
caused by Chinese newspapers. The National Front lost Lunas
because UMNO's failed to bring in the Malay vote. The UMNO youth
leader, Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein, was in charge of the National
Front campaign there, but he deserted it mid-way to answer a
pressing need for a holiday with his family overseas.
The UMNO and National Front arrogance, compounded with more
Mercedes Benzes and BMWs seen in Lunas, the wrong choice of
candidate, and unable to counter the opposition's smooth
campaign, caused its defeat. The Chinese vote was important, but
it was not as important as the Malay. When UMNO could not
deliver the Malay vote, the battle was all but lost. If it had,
and the Chinese had not, the Prime Minister's complaints would
have been valid.
The long and short of it is when the Malay vote is critical
to UMNO, xenophobia surfaces. So, Dr Mahathir attacks the
Chinese newspapers. He did not explain why he did nothing when
the newspapers did. Indeed, if they had, his government would
have acted quickly. It did not. Which suggests that the Prime
Minister's remarks about Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press was to
show how rascally the Chinese can be when it suits them.
None at the UMNO general assembly spoke of what was wrong
with UMNO, and how its arrogant prescription on how Malaysia
should be governed is now under attack, not just from the Malay
community but from Malaysians in general. PAS is attacked for
going to the ground and nurturning the Malay community. UMNO
talks of going down to the ground to counter the growing
challenge to its governance.
It talks of a cadre of speakers who could answer the
opposition campaigns. It attacks PAS for its Islamic worldview,
which in Dr Mahathir's view is not Islamic at all for it "shuns"
development. But so long as UMNO leaders insist on attending
ceremahs in remote villages in their Mercedes Benzes and PAS men
on their bicycles, no amount of Chinese support can save them.
Instead of addressing these issues, the delegates were told
the others -- MCA, MIC, Gerakan, PAS, Keadilan, DAP, the Chinese,
the Indians, the anti-UMNO Indians, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim --
want to see UMNO and the National Front out of power. UMNO, more
than the National Front, alone has the key to national wisdom.
All others are anti-national.
UMNO loses sight of its goals. The glib belief that long
years in office gives it immunity from attacks is now challenged.
This came to the surface starkly in how the former deputy prime
minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, was humiliated, battered and
jailed. It released the pent-up anger of the Malay community
whose voice could not be heard, except in controlled sequences.
The geriatric UMNO leaders had an answer for every problem,
and blamed everyone else for it but themselves. They did not
accept they are the problem. UMNO and National Front leaders are
out of touch with the rising generation. There seems to be a
race amongst UMNO and National Front leaders who would remain
longest at the helm.
But the grandchildren of the fathers of independence are out
of touch with the National Front that has been in power since
1955. Dr Mahathir was a member of UMNO at its formation in 1946.
His successor can never be, but that he is is as much the problem
in UMNO as other factors. But he does not see it that way, and
UMNO is in his absolute control for it to want to ask him to
It is more important for the Prime Minister to continue at
the helm than give way in the larger interests of the country.
His autocratic hold is near total, but he is also isolated.
There is no sign of this changing yet. So, the UMNO xenophobia
is bound to be an important feature of the coming years. Race
relations is headed for a rocky patch in the coming years. UMNO
must fight to earn its support from its support base, the
Malays. The cause for that is, of course, every one else. It is
this denial syndrome that raises the ante. It is not one we