Taming of the foxes


Either by chance or design, when an English daily decided to translate Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s analogy that inviting Umno into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is akin to jemput ular sawah ke sarang ular lidi as “inviting foxes into hen houses”, it can be open to numerous interpretations. 

On any given day, jemput ular sawah ke sarang ular lidi would be taken simply as “inviting a giant into a dwarf’s cottage”, meaning how can a party like Bersatu with merely 13 MPs (now 14 after Umno’s Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed joined Bersatu) dream of inviting MPs from Umno, which has more than triple that number?

But translating it as “inviting foxes into hen houses” conjures something more sinister as it is known that foxes sneak on chickens and as such, they should never be allowed into any chicken coop.

Then again, the reporter who wrote the story might have been influenced by the fact that Tengku Razaleigh is the MP for Gua Musang, popularly anglicised as the fox’s lair (though it has been argued that the translation should be civet cat).

Unless Tengku Razaleigh is trying to send a subtle message to Bersatu leaders of how sneaky Umno MPs are and that they should not be accepted into anyone’s fold.

That aside, his remarks came amid speculation that up to 40 Umno MPs would be joining Bersatu after Mustapa.

Whether there are going to be 40, or only four Umno MPs who choose to cross over to Bersatu or other parties, the crux of the matter is that Umno seems to be crumbling, and crumbling fast.

It may be argued that it is unthinkable that the seven-decade-old party will end in oblivion, when in fact it should be able to make a comeback, as in the cases of other independent parties elsewhere in the world.

There is truth to that, but the case involving Bersatu and Umno is actually quite unprecedented in so far as the Malaysian experience is concerned.

On reflection, there have been several Umno splinter parties starting with the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) led by Umno founder Datuk Onn Jaafar. It failed, and so did his subsequent makeover Parti Negara.

The only Umno splinter party that has survived to date is PAS, but it has chosen the more religious-centric approach, hence its ability to compete with Umno. But even then, its reach had always been confined to the Malaysian “green belt” in the East Coast.

Tengku Razaleigh should also be an authority on this as he himself led the splinter Semangat 46 in 1990, finally winding it up and re-joining Umno six years later.

On the other end, PAS too had its share of experience in dealing with splinter parties — Berjasa and HAMIM, both religious leaning, had one shot and then they too, shuffled to the sidelines.

In the final analysis, only two Malay-based parties have survived and that too with one using Islam as its credentials.

Of course, there is the Parti Keadilan Nasional and later on rebranded as Parti Keadilan Rakyat or PKR. Though it came about from a fallout in Umno, it had, from the start, styled itself as a multiracial entity and remains so until today.

But in so far as the Malay electorate is concerned, there’s only two competing to take control over the domain.

And if past experience is of essence, either one will have to shuffle to the sidelines as well.

The question is which — Bersatu or Umno?

Again the situation is quite unique — in the past, the ones that had to wind up are those with less seats and, obviously, not in power. That was the fate of IMP, Parti Negara, Semangat 46 and to a large degree, also HAMIM and Berjasa.

But this time around, though Umno commands the bigger number of seats, Bersatu is in power and its chairman is the prime minister. Hence, the talks of 40 Umno MPs moving out and joining Bersatu can bring an end to Umno, conclusive or lingering, and seal Bersatu’s fate as the leading Malay party.

At the rate things are going, Umno’s fate seems doomed, especially when it continues to hold on to the very leaders who had brought about its downfall.

The rejection, even from within Umno itself, is becoming more and more apparent by the day and its mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia’s recent damning piece on Najib that was just short of calling him a liar and a thief sums up the sentiment.

Obviously, Umno has lost its mojo and the leaders who lost them in the first place are obviously not the one to recover it.

There are attempts to tap on the Malay sentiments that things are going downhill for the race with the defeat of Umno.

Such renditions may resonate with some but, by and large, the Malay community have come to terms that the last batch of Umno leaders in power had failed them and were only short of selling the Malays to the highest bidders.

So ends Umno and the coop shall be safe.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.