Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Najib's Manipulation

Karim Raslan’s "Ceritalah” column in the Star yesterday, titled "Malays now have a choice" was illuminating in that he hints on Najib’s successful manipulation of the Malaysian political landscape. There was the well-choreographed UMNO general assembly, which seemingly boosted the party’s prospects. And his emphasis on strategy rather than on reforms to build a confidence-boosting impetus among BN loyalists is interesting. This momentum started with MIC’s Samy Vellu’s long-awaited decision to retire in January. Then we witnessed MCA’s showcase of unity at their own general assembly this month. This was followed up with the unveiling of the 2011 Budget which while many would disagree, BN apologists would argue that it created a feel-good factor. Karim’s explanations were really spot-on. “On the one hand, the big-spending package guarantees the loyalty of UMNO’s entrepreneur base that requires regular government contracts. On the other, the Budget’s expansionary approach also promises cash handouts to other UMNO-friendly constituencies such as the civil service. The icing on the cake are the bold, Mahathir-era type initiatives such as the much criticized Warisan Merdeka… the UMNO faithful are clearly enthralled” (p N50). Down the line, with the two by-elections, Batu Sapi in Sabah and Galas in Kelantan where BN is poised to win handsomely – all of the above will come together to set BN’s electoral machinery into overdrive. Didn’t Najib warn that the general election is going to be soon?

Still, Karim cautions by saying that the upbeat mood is underscored by uncertainty. In other words, will everything fall into place as anticipated? Is Sarawak, BN’s safe deposit? Will the Malays rally behind a reinvigorated UMNO? Or given that Malays now have other choices – PAS and PKR – they can now break free from the shackles of the once dominant parti kerajaan (i.e. government party). As Karim said: “If anything, the Malay community – the consumers of politics – has never had so much political power or choice.” The pertinent question is whether the Malays will now freely exercise that choice.

But Karim’s real message is not just about the local politics. He concludes that “while UMNO’s deft strategies may help it retain power, they cannot replace reform in the long-run”. This is because the country is caught in a fast-moving vortex of irreversible change. And so, “if UMNO wishes to triumph, it must go beyond mere political campaigning”. And that “the actual struggle is more about positioning both the Malay community and Malaysia in the new global order and securing a better future for all of us”.

But so far, Najib is focusing only on the national agenda. The Malays are perched high, right at the top of the food chain – but without a vision, a stout heart, a competitive spirit and a pair of steady feet, how long can the Malays stay up there?

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