Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin bared all in an interview with Channel NewsAsia on May 15. When asked about Barisan Nasional’s (BN) defeat in the polls, he said: “Nobody wanted to acknowledge we have a problem. What happened was we became delusional; we got drunk on our own Kool-Aid and we got carried away.”
Drinking Kool-Aid is an expression originating from the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978 where hundreds of members of the People’s Temple movement died after following their leader in drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison.
It means to follow one’s leaders unconditionally with no questions asked. The phrase is often used in political and corporate circles in the US.
Khairy’s use of the phrase is interesting. What was Najib Razak’s concoction? Umno, as a powerful Malay political party, created a world of its own after being in power for more than half a century. Its leaders invented the idea of Malay supremacy and Malay invincibility. All others, Chinese and Indians, were “pendatangs” (immigrants), and lower down the food chain were other ethnic races in East Malaysia, categorised as “dan lain-lain” (and others).
Umno sold the political concept of “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy), emphasising Malay pre-eminence in present-day Malaysia. The Malays claimed a special position and special rights, owing to their long domicile in Peninsular Malaysia and under the sultanate rule.
There is no meritocracy in Umno’s Ketuanan Melayu. Across the Causeway in Chinese-majority Singapore, the president is a Malay lady. In Malaysia, according to PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and Federal Territories mufti Zulkifli Mohamad, only Malay Muslims can become prime minister and deputy prime minister, and occupy key government positions. Dr Mahathir Mohamad bringing in Lim Guan Eng as finance minister is a game changer.
To keep itself in power, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government bulldozed laws through Parliament like Sosma, the NSC, and the Anti-Fake News Act. Police intimidation and MACC harassment was used on opponents like Lim and Mahathir’s wife, Siti Hasmah. The government media was used to humiliate people and show who was in control. There was no such thing as innocent until proven guilty. In contrast, people like former Felda chairman Mohd Isa Samad were treated with kid gloves and even rewarded with a new position.
To strengthen and perpetuate the Ketuanan Melayu concept, Umno leaders proclaimed that Najib was chosen by God.
“I want to tell you that not everyone can be prime minister. There is only one, because Allah chose him, and he is the chosen one,” Umno lawmaker Othman Aziz said at the party’s general assembly in 2015.
Najib even said at the last Umno general assembly that the party would rule for another 1,000 years.
There is a Latin proverb, “Man proposes, and God disposes” – in the end, God decides the right side of things, not politicians.
The inner circles of party leadership insulated their members from the outside reality. They fed them through an elaborate food chain of cushy contracts, money, positions, and rewards to keep them in a trance and buy their loyalty.
When asked what the party could have done to prevent the May 9 rout, Khairy said: “We didn’t want to bell the cat. Nobody, after Muhyiddin was purged, after Shafie was purged … Nobody wanted to acknowledge we have a problem. That was a terrible mistake on our part.”
The phrase “to bell the cat” comes from a fable, often, and likely, incorrectly attributed to Aesop. “Belling the Cat” tells of a group of mice who decided that one of them would tie a bell to a cat so that its jingle would warn them of the cat’s presence. However, none wanted to take on the dangerous task. Not even Khairy, who led Umno’s youth wing, dared to bell the cat.
Khairy’s confession shows how deep the situation goes. Umno leaders can no longer tell the forest from the trees. They became so involved in the scheme of things that they could not distinguish the truth from the everyday lies they were living.
Khairy said the biggest mistake was failing to speak the truth, to protect Najib. There were clear signals, but they went unheeded, he said.
Umno was protecting or propping up one person, Najib, at the expense of its members and the people. The question we should ask the likes of Khairy, and the three gentlemen from Sabah – Salleh Said Keruak, Rahman Dahlan and Pandikar Amin Mulia – is: was it worth it?
In the end, Umno did not serve the Malays or improve their lot in life. Its leaders served only themselves, and perpetuated the Ketuanan Melayu mindset for their own gain and to control their members. There was no Ketuanan Melayu. It was only a myth. If anything, there was a “Ketuanan Voters”, who kicked out a selfish and corrupt government.
Everybody knows the nursery rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall” – and nobody could put Humpty Dumpty together again.
This rhyme is perhaps the best description of Najib’s spectacular fall from the dizzying heights of fame and fortune to where he is today – barred from even leaving the country. He is now a pale shadow of the once-powerful prime minister of Malaysia. He now joins the ranks of people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Both were booted from office for corruption and government excesses while in power.
In summary, Khairy said: “This must not happen again, we must not ever allow our leaders in Umno to be detached from reality and not ask tough questions. If we continue with our feudal mindset of protecting the leader from the truth, Umno will go extinct.”
It might already be too late as the remaining batch of Umno leaders did not disassociate themselves from the 1MDB scandal, but continued supporting Najib. Now, they are all tainted by the 1MDB fallout.
Joe Samad is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.