How to re-form a party without really trying

Umno,-PPBM,-Muhyiddin-Yassin,-Mahathir-Mohamad,-Abdul-Rashid-Abdul-Rahman,-PerkasaLast August, when the new Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) was finally registered, the expected rhetoric was delivered about a “radically different” party.

Never mind that it was yet another Bumiputera-only party, the claim by one of its founding members, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, was that “PPBM will champion all Malaysians when it comes to motions for reforms. This party is a reform-centric Bumiputera party.”

Fast forward three months and we come to the announcement made yesterday on the office-bearers of the new party led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as its chairman.

Former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin is the party’s president and former Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir is his deputy.

Others named in the announcement are three vice-presidents, a secretary-general, treasurer, information chief, youth wing chief, women’s wing chief and 19 supreme council members.

Some are easily recognisable, but those of us who don’t follow Umno politics closely would need to do a little googling to know anything about the rest.

Therein lies a clue as to what makes this party tick. It is no different from that other party which Mahathir formed in 1988, Umno Baru.

So, if you are familiar with how Umno works, you would be familiar with PPBM. Or, as the saying goes, they are the “same difference”.

Even if one were to consider its willingness to accept other Bumiputera citizens, namely from Sabah and Sarawak, the lack of diversity in the PPBM line-up just shows up the party for what it is.

But there is a big surprise in the line-up. One of the vice-presidents is Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, a former chairman of the Election Commission (EC).

The credibility of the EC is said to have gone downhill under his watch – he was EC secretary from 1979 and its chairman from 2000 to 2008 – but it is his post-EC reputation that sticks in the mind for me.

In May 2013, Rashid joined Malay right-wing group Perkasa at the invitation of its president, Ibrahim Ali.

What the man who had managed six of Malaysia’s 12 general elections said after joining Perkasa still rings in the ear.

“This land has always belonged to the Malays,” Rashid said at a Perkasa division meeting, adding that as EC chairman, he “knew how to keep the Malays in power”. He even admitted that three redelineation exercises done during his time as EC chief “had ensured Malays remained in power”.

This, combined with Mahathir being a former adviser to Perkasa and the famous “I am Malay first, Malaysian second” position of the PPBM president, makes one wonder how the party can even consider itself as being involved in the pursuit of a reform agenda.

The only “reform” I can see is that these people left, or were dumped by, Umno and decided to “re-form” themselves under PPBM.

No one is questioning the sanctity of Malay rights and privileges. These are guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and must be respected by all citizens.

The main issue here is PPBM’s composition, and the record of its leaders all these years when compared with the so-called reform agenda that they now claim to represent.

Some of these PPBM leaders are entrenched in the way they see the country and how it should be governed, having come up the ranks in Umno since young.

Bearing that in mind, one can’t help but wonder whether we might see some progressive-minded leaders from PPBM leaving the party in the months to come, like a founding member did recently.