PETALING JAYA: Umno Youth vice-chief Shahril Sufian Hamdan is ploughing a lonely furrow by not conforming to what some might say are the typical attributes of an Umno leader.
For a start, he refuses to resort to the racial rhetoric for which some Umno leaders have long been noted.
He is also not shy about speaking up against decisions by his party or statements by fellow Umno leaders that do not line up with the brand of politics he would follow to the grave.
Such a stance makes Shahril, 33, an “unpopular child” within most Umno circles, a term he coined for himself and which he openly talks about on Twitter.
In a recent interview, Shahril told FMT:
“I’ve chosen to be clear about what my views are. These are, broadly speaking, about progressive politics and defending and upholding the multicultural make-up and DNA of this country.
“It is about making sure that the centrist and moderate version of politics becomes the mainstream of the politics that we practise in this country.”
Although at times, he may seem to be singing a “slightly different tune”, Shahril believes his views are not contradictory to the founding principles held by Umno 60 years ago or its stance and that of Barisan Nasional (BN) since.
“We cannot deny that there will always be a temptation to veer to the right, but the question remains how will the party manage its different flanks and ensure that the public sees them as staying true to its founding principles?”
Shahril sees his role as one of renewal, which he regards as pivotal to Umno regaining popularity in the wake of its historic defeat last year after 61 years in power.
He supports the recent moves towards an Umno-PAS alliance but feels such an alliance needs to be “multicultural in nature” and centred on the country’s future, not just “playing up racial rhetoric”.
“We must delve into the policy aspect of this collaboration and ensure that it is not simply to shore up the Malay vote but to win over urban Malays and a significant number of non-Malays.
“The only way to do that is to present an image of Malaysia that is palatable to all cross-sections of society,” he said.
He adds that this is one type of “posturing” which he holds in high regard.
He also has a mission to clear the air about racialist rhetoric. “This might seem difficult to understand but there is a thin sliver of a line where you can talk about race and not be so negative about it.”
While his main reason for joining Umno was to fight for Malay advancement and see Malays succeed on merit, he says such progress should not be carried out by demonising non-Malays in any way.
He is against the use of deliberately provocative racial sentiments that are meant to provoke anger. “This is never justified. So, things have to move away from this.”
Breaking from Umno’s norm has led to Shahril becoming more tactful in giving his views, especially dissenting ones.
“For a party of three million, it is quite reasonable to assume that there will be differences of views,” he said. “It doesn’t always have to be made through public statements. It can be done in private too.”
“Not all differences have to be contradictory,” he added. “Sometimes there are simply different perspectives: in those cases, I’m quite happy to speak out in public.”
Shahril is disappointed by some decisions of the new government, such as “arrogantly” wanting to ratify ICERD, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
“I don’t see how ratifying ICERD today has any real impact on the people and I don’t see how the Rome Statute (setting up the International Criminal Court), as well-intentioned as it may be, can help in any way or further the welfare of the people.”
He said Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) “haphazard colours” are shown by its insistence on such treaties “which don’t help your case” while reducing federal assistance to the B40 (low-income) group “and not having a clear economic plan in place”.
He is also annoyed by PH’s apparent failure to realise the genuine discontent among the Malays, or their fear of their rights being taken away. “Otherwise, there wouldn’t be this big rally opposed to ICERD.”
While he’s unconcerned about whether his views will work to his political benefit, Shahril is certain that things are now looking up for Umno.
“Malaysian politics is changing at a pace far more erratic than what we experienced a year before. The same guys who rode the GE14 wave are no longer liked by the people who voted them in,” he said.
And as the changes take place, he intends to keep up his regular critique of PH, keep Umno in check, and stick to his own principles. “It keeps me sane,” he says.