Is there room for UMNO to re-invent itself or it’s just a matter of ‘game over’ for the party?

FORMER twice premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammed has commented that UMNO will be dead or become a spent force by the time of the next parliamentary elections.

He made this remark after the UMNO’s candidate lost to PAS’ Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar in the recently held by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Kemaman.

Dr Mahathir might want to paint an extreme picture of UMNO’s doomsday but his extremism does not foreclose the reality that UMNO’s strength in Malaysian politics has been sapped out.

Today, UMNO by virtue of its presence in the PH coalition is being kept alive and vice-versa. In other words, UMNO needs Pakatan Harapan (PH) to stay afloat politically and PH will fall without UMNO. This will explain why both need each other badly.

But for all intents and purposes, UMNO might be witnessing its last lap in the arena of Malaysian politics. How it can re-invent itself by focusing on race, religion and country remains a difficult question.

Even Dr Mahathir has no clue how UMNO can re-invent itself in the future. How UMNO is going to re-focus its energy and time in these critical areas of race, religion and country might even be mind boggling to many. UMNO is no more the party it was two decades ago.

In the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, UMNO held on to hegemonic power on the grounds of race and religion. However, the use of power and patronage in return for political support slowly but surely undermined the legitimacy of UMNO as a clean and principled political party.

PAS filling up the void

Membership and support for UMNO meant easy access to power, positions and financial gains. The circumstances for the continuation of the struggle for race, religion and the country were not there.

Materialism became the focus of the party. In areas where UMNO was weak such as religion, the vacuum came to be filled by political parties such as PAS.

It was just a matter of time before UMNO’s monopoly of race and religion came to be contested by PAS and other political parties. Financial scandals, corruption, the widening gap between the rich and poor Malays further undermined UMNO.

It was just a matter of time before the party came to be denounced as corrupt and un-Islamic. UMNO leaders without understanding the ground sentiments went into the 2022 general elections to be trounced by the opposition made up of PAS and Bersatu.

UMNO’s embrace of the DAP might have endeared the party to the Chinese but only for it to become further alienated from the Malays. The recent win by the PAS candidate Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar in the Kemaman parliamentary by-elections demonstrated that UMNO has no place in the East Coast states of Peninsula Malaysia.

Some leaders in the Madani government are saying that the Kemaman by-election does not affect the strength of the unity government. It is not just in the East Coast states but UMNO has lost Malay support throughout the country.

How is UMNO going to make a major political comeback? By aligning with DAP, UMNO might endear itself to the Chinese but ended up further alienating the Malays. Generally, Malays are unforgiving of UMNO to have embraced the DAP.

What’s next for UMNO?

So, what is going to be the future of UMNO? Can it go back to its grand old days of its political hegemony? How is the party leadership going to explain to the Malays of their leaders’ involvement in corruption and financial scandals?

Can UMNO be reborn again? In many ways, UMNO is not that different from the Congress Party in India.

Like UMNO, Congress negotiated political independence for India. It administered the country for decades but was slowly and surely weakened by the forces of Hindu nationalism best represented in the Bharathia Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India.

Can Congress with all its past mistakes and sins really comeback to national power? There are indications that the sun had set for the Congress.

Like Congress in India, UMNO is weighted down by the mistakes, misfortunes and blunders of the past. Allegations of corruption, financial scandals and others have rocked the party. The Malays have already forsaken UMNO so much so that it would be near impossible for the party to make a return.

The mistakes, errors and others have weighted down UMNO so much that it would be hard for it to emerge unscathed. How on earth does Dr Mahathir expect UMNO to return to race, religion and the country?

How can UMNO become the champion of the Malay race and Islam under the present circumstances where the domains of race and religion have been contested and taken over by Bersatu and PAS? – Dec 5, 2023


Former DAP stalwart and Penang chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is chairman of the Urimai Interim Council.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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