Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Malay Political Moulin Rouge

Note: I had written this just after last year's UMNO General Assembly. An edited version of this piece appeared in Malaysia Kini. This piece will always be relevant, in my opinion, every time UMNO has its general assembly because year in year out this is what they will discuss! So, here it is, the unedited version, warts and all...

“from the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn plays wasted words…”

- Dylan : it’s alright, ma ( I am only bleeding)

Mired in intellectual mediocrity; corrupt of any constructive socio-economics ideas and lacking in real leadership quality, the UMNO delegates – and their so called leaders alike – resorted to rhetoric bordering on surreal idolism and flirted with jingoism. If patriotism is, indeed, as Samuel Johnson puts it, the last refuge of a scoundrel, than the mother of all scoundrels had, in the past week, manifested itself and bred aplenty at the PWTC.

If, during the Mahathir era, the UMNO General Assembly would almost inevitably be preceded by the launch of a repackaged Proton car disguised as a new model by Tengku Mahalil and his band of auto clowns from Shah Alam, the chest beating agenda of this year’s assembly was set in no other than the birth state of UMNO, Johor. About 10 days before this year’s assembly, launched with much aplomb and pageantry by Pak Lah and his band of Ben Elton’s wannabes was a very ambitious - albeit economically and strategically puzzling - project dubbed the “South Johor Economic Region”. It is a project “2.5 times the size of Singapore (yes, size matters ; see KLCC for cross reference please) and 48 times as big as Putrajaya” (as succinctly reported by the Star on 4th November 2006).

The PM has obviously perfected the art of political rally driving where he would say something and almost immediately thereafter do a 180 degree turn in typical Possum Bourne fashion. “We will build the crooked bridge to Singapore come what may” one minute and “after considering public sentiments about it, we have now decided not to build it” one minute later. Public sentiment my foot! “I don’t need to build monuments and mega project” some months ago and “2.5 times the size of Singapore and 40 times as big as Putrajaya” come early November. Valentino Rossi, here comes the real new kid on the block, boy!

If Mahathir would just be content with a chest-beating precursor to HIS assembly, the current PM has taken it further. There must also be an “intellectual” (why is it that I chuckle when I was typing the word “intellectual”?) precursor. The real tone of the assembly was set by Ghani Othman a day after the launch of the SJER when he contrived a meek and what was, in reality, an intellectually challenged, polemic on Bangsa Malaysia. “Bangsa Malaysia is not acceptable”, screamed the headlines on 6th November 2006. What followed over the next few days was a polemic, which is, to F1, the Super Aguri team and to normal healthy people, a kindergarten talk!

And so, the day came. Amidst all the white baju melayu and red sampins as well as the white baju kurung and red kains (and of course, the current politically correct white tudungs!), the obligatory Keris was carried around, unsheathed and brandished. And, the rhetoric commenced!

Hishamuddin Hussein, in a rare display of decisiveness, decided to un-Hussein-Onn himself. Ditching the soft, smooth and diplomatic ways his father was well known for he delivered an ear shattering speech. His message was loud and clear. Well, it was very loud and a lot unclear, actually! His deputy and the most famous son in law, Khairi Jamaluddin did not want to be left out as well. His was a fiery speech. Even a super senior UMNO stalwart who dared to question the NEP came under attack by KJ. When interviewed after the assembly, he was quoted as saying “they (the speeches) were fiery, but there was no fire”. Haha…excuse me for my laugh, but wasn’t that exactly the point? Fiery but no fire? Clever but not smart? All words but no substance?One after another took the centre stage. Topics ranging from the all too obvious our-leaders-doing- well-and-so-let-him-do-it-his-way to a minister’s wife’s exposed breasts were brought up, dissected, discussed and shouted about in earnest. After all, it was to be a week for the Malay agenda to be brought to the fore. The message was clear. We are the Malays. We have our rights. We are in a struggle. We struggle for our race. We struggle for our religion. We struggle for the struggles of our forefathers. Don’t you make us angry by questioning our rights, or by disturbing our struggles. We wouldn’t like that. We would get angry and when we are angry, we will unsheathed our Kris, all 6 inch of it, and poke you!

The PM’s speech was assuring to all Malaysians. We must not drown ourselves into ultra-conservatism. There must be religious and racial integration, and tolerance. While we lead the country, we must be fair and just. It was a breadth of fresh air. And that was it, air. Nothing more! What is your, and UMNO’s, vision of our country Pak Lah? And where is the path that is going to take us to that vision? Where is the socio-economics blueprint that is going to guarantee that we all are not going to drown ourselves in ultra-conservatism, that is going to guarantee racial and religious integration and tolerance, that is going to bring your idea of transparency and accountability to fruition? Where? What? How? None!

The usual applause and pleasantries followed. It was a good speech. And all UMNO thank you for it. And don’t anybody dare to say anything bad about it please. Because at UMNO, we unite with one aim, one voice and….one opinion! Mukhriz Mahathir found that out to his chagrin when he said the speech was nothing new!

When everything else went on with the usual accompanying boredom, something has to be done to spice things up. Enter Datuk Azhar Mansur. He made an appearance. Denied that he is no more a Muslim. Like, duh?

And so the assembly came to a close. The delegates did some shopping and went back home. And life goes on with its attendant normalcy. Why can’t they just leave all of us alone?

“And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.”

- Dylan: It’s Alright Ma (I am just bleeding)

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