PETALING JAYA: Politicians with backgrounds in Umno will continue to be frontrunners for the prime minister’s post for some time, says political scientist Chandra Muzaffar, responding to a former minister’s observation that all eight prime ministers were once in the Malay party.
“For the time being, I see that this Umno DNA will remain a feature of Malaysian politics, but it will not last forever,” Chandra told FMT.
Umno Supreme Council member Ahmad Shabery Cheek recently said there had been no one qualified to be PM who did not have the “Umno DNA” in him.
Shabery mentioned Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin Yassin and Anwar Ibrahim, and said the strength of Umno’s DNA could be attributed to the party’s ability to build capable politicians through its structure.
Chandra said this was due to Umno’s sheer historical dominance in the shaping of Malaysian politics.
But he said this was not unique to Umno, which turned 74 earlier this week.
He pointed to parallel examples in India and Japan, noting that the Indian National Congress and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party were dominant for a long time. Many of the two countries’ current leaders had links to those parties, he noted.
He said vestiges of Umno remained even in politicians who have left the party.
He added that various factors, both positive and negative, had led to Umno’s dominance. He mentioned its track record in administering and developing the nation, its work in elevating the national language and the role of Islam in public life as well as its inclination towards patronage politics.
Former MP Tawfik Ismail said it was the strength of Umno’s machinery and infrastructure that had enabled it to recruit and train leaders as well as garner support at the grassroots level.
The former Umno member noted that the party had the largest presence in the country in terms of numbers of branches and members, with only PAS coming close.
“To open a branch, you need at least 15 committee members and 50 new members,” he said. “These are numbers that are easily achievable from among family members and they can include youth and women for the respective wings.”
He noted that the role of women in Umno had often been understated despite the huge impact of their work in gathering voting support.
“No party has been able to replicate Umno’s level of female involvement in politics,” he said.
While the party’s structure meant a leader would be trained to survive in the political arena and build support, he added, it made it difficult for professionals, who might not have the time to invest in grassroots politics, to get into the party hierarchy.
“There are many such professionals who were rejected at Umno branch levels and who are now in other parties like PKR or PPBM.”
Political analyst Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said he believed Umno had gained from a combination of its training process and entrenchment in Malaysian politics.
He said Umno’s hierarchy system ensured that its leaders would go through the necessary drills. This would apply even to political bluebloods like former prime minister Najib Razak, whose father, Abdul Razak Hussein, was also a former prime minister, he added.
“Najib went through the system and has proven that he is PM material,” he said.
But he also said it was hard to avoid Umno’s influence since Malaysian politics involves only a small circle of politicians.
“With Umno being so synonymous with Malaysian politics, politicians and the public too are bound to be bombarded by Umno’s influence.
“This is why the narrative that Malaysia needs Umno is so common and why it still enjoys a lot of support, especially in the Malay heartlands.”
He said Umno needed to realise that narrative would not hold forever, given that the younger generation of Malaysians are less inclined to giving sentimental support in favour of placing an importance on results.
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