Friday Jottings: The not so deceptive sleight of hands

IF some Malays outside the World Trade Centre looking inside on the Umno goings-on, harbour any dream that the party is about to turn around and fight to regain its pole position soon, they need to pipe on something strong.

There is neither wit, worth, nor words to stir the imagination or hope of the ordinary Malays outside those walls, especially for those who did not vote for Umno in the 2022 polls but was considering to return with their votes in the next general election.

After all, Umno is the grand old party of the Malays.

With the exception of PAS and its splinters, other Malay leaders in the other political parties, Malay-based or otherwise, were at one time or another an Umno stalwart.

In fact, since independence, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia, now numbering 10, were all from or ex-Umno. In other words, thus far, no matter how low Umno had gone, its brand, directly or otherwise, is somewhat premium.

However, given the fact that the last three out of four were ex-Umno, and that the only Umno man holding the post suffers the ignominy as the shortest serving PM, it negates the brand’s premium.

If the last two terms saw Umno losing grip on the nation’s helm, the route it took post-2022 doesn’t promise it becoming the nation’s leading party any time soon.

And its mannerism doesn’t reflect that it wants to or, in modern lexicon, it lacks the winning attitude. For others, it doesn’t have the stomach to do battle and the only interest the party leaders have is saving themselves and getting positions, even if it is on charity.

Firstly, the party approached this assembly attempting to justify its decision of joining the Pakatan Harapan-led coalition in forming the current government.

It has no choice as it was this support that made it possible for the PH and its PM candidate Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to become PM.

Yet, Umno’s battle cry in the 2022 campaign was “No Anwar, No DAP” and they got both of them instead and that they are superior to them in the pecking order is not a myth.

Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan when opening the party’s wings meeting, came up with a lame theory that all the years of opposing the DAP did not translate to votes.

“In fact, they declined,” he was quoted as saying.

If the last four elections since 2008 which saw Umno’s decline, from losing the two-thirds in 2008 and 2013 and losing the Government in 2018 and 2022, an honest assessment will tell a different tale than that spun by Mohamad.

In 2008, traditional Malay voters were fed-up with the then administration in which the PM is perceived to be allowing kith and kin to run the nation. It saw the drop of Umno’s parliamentary seat from an impressive 109 it secured in 2004 to 79.

In 2013, Umno under the administration of Datuk Seri Najib Razak managed a respectable rebound, managing 88 parliamentary seats and only one short of the opposition’s total.

Then came the disastrous 2018 polls when Najib was drowning in the 1MDB infamy and Umno chose to defend him and ignored sweeping, abhorring public sentiments.

Umno only secured 54 parliamentary seats down 34 from the previous election.

And despite that, Umno continued to ignore public sentiment and instead, defended Najib and declared him as their “Bossku” or our boss, a moniker that propelled the disgraced ex-PM to an icon almost to the Sivaji the Boss’ silver-screen proportion, at least among his diehards.

By the time the 2022 polls were held, imprisoned Najib became a secondary issue among the PH and opposition parties, to be replaced by his successor as Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Zahid went into the polls as disgraced as his predecessor, demonised and discredited. Any reference made of Zahid by the PH supporters were made condescendingly and with utter disregard of even minimal decency.

The results proved that the nation rejected Zahid and Umno, managing only 26 parliamentary seats, less than half of what it managed when Umno and Najib was drowning in the 1MDB cesspool.

It all sums up to one thing that in so far as the nation is concern, including Umno members who chose to abandon the party, it was simply a case of it being perceived to be afflicted by corruption and money politics.

But to sum up that it’s vote did not increase because of its attacks on the DAP is misleading and flippant.

If anything, the only reason why it managed to secure 33 percent of the Malay votes is probably because its stance against the DAP and Anwar.

Furthermore, the academic Bridget Welsh’s findings that PH only secured 11 percent of the Malay votes and Perikatan Nasional managed 54 percent points to only one conclusion that more than half of the Malay voting population rejected Anwar and the DAP.

Since the present cooperation between Umno and PH is only realised post-election, then Umno’s 33 percent too rejected Anwar and the DAP.

That means a total of 89 percent of the Malay voters rejected Anwar and the DAP.

And Umno was rejected by their base because of sticking to the current leadership and refusal to admit that it is tainted by the issue of corruption and abuse of power.

Now, with the leaders cosying up with the PH, it is turning the table against those who wanted to support the PN before the government was formed.

The Umno 10 who signed the statutory declaration of supporting PN’s candidate as PM are now labelled as traitors.

It defies logic. Umno entered the polls with “No Anwar, No DAP” as its mantra. If anything, the Umno 10 was consistent with the party’s stand and Zahid and the rest who now enjoy cabinet positions are the ones that betrayed the cause.

Instead, it has turned out to be the other way round, proving that Umno today, for all its faults, warts and all, seems to be getting quite good at the magic art of deception. But as in the past, only its diehard members can be tricked.

The PH supporters can see through them but since it serves their purpose and that they get the Malay leader they want as the PM, they will let it pass.

But the bigger body of Malays is likely to see through it.


Shamsul Akmar is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.