An Umno Angel wears Prada but the Devil is in the details

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Umno has been trying to save its body – but what has happened to its soul, wonders Maznah Mohamad as she reflects on the exit of Shahrizat Jalil.

The exit of Shahrizat Jalil was a divine performance equal to the best in sandiwara.

In court accompanying her husband for his CBT charge, she was in white. From baju kurung to head veil (not her usual diaphanous shawl loosely draped around a coiffured hairdo) to designer handbag, the leader of Umno’s women was awash in angelic hues. Was all this orchestrated to subliminally convey the air of virginal innocence?

Shahrizat's Prada handbag

Yes, she was toting a Prada handbag. So even the angel wears Prada.

Like Shahrizat, Umno is projecting a purity of mission, such as its latest fight to ‘save’ Muslims from ‘proselytising’ Christians and from an ‘evil’ Chinese DAP contaminating the Islamic Pas. It is a mission which belies the decadent giveaways of party leaders’ penchant for the extravagant, from Hermes bags to Wagyu beef. Through thick and thin, even unforgiveable sins, Umno will be counting on the Malays to support them.

Umno leaders exhibit little remorse or sense of moral shame while its grassroots is not drawn into any internal rebellion despite heaps upon heaps of allegations against many in the party – from misappropriation of billions of ringgit of public funds to an unsolved grisly murder.

A Leviathan rises

One way of explaining the Malay psyche of undivided loyalty to Umno is to understand Umno not as a political party but as a Leviathan (after Thomas Hobbes), a behemoth inside whose body is contained the Bangsa Melayu. To conceive of the Leviathan crumbling would be to see all of its contents and entrails spilling out. And everyone is afraid of confronting the possibility of a not-too-pretty a sight.

Umno is an old party which had single-handedly monopolised the Bangsa Melayu patent. Both Umno and the Bangsa Melayu were created at the conjunctural moment of crisis stirred by the Malayan Union plan. The Raja’s betrayal of the rakyat’s trust in acceding to the terms of the British proposal resulted in a twist of history we now live with. Instead of sovereignty bequeathed to a modern, representative government, it was transferred to the 41 Malay organisations, later formalised as the United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

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The move was an adroit strike; Umno representing a diverse Malay peoples, now united under the Bangsa Melayu – an identity so new, it was all-empowering. Instead of a representative people’s government (of all Malayans) in place of an authoritative monarchy, a representative network of the Bangsa Melayu would replace the sovereignty of the Raja. In exchange for the restoration of the old kerajaan’s dignity, Umno would be its protector. A Hobbesian Leviathan was thus born.

Umno was this giant body of a wise, benevolent and authoritative figure; embedded in it would be the various Malay peoples all looking up to the crown of the Raja above. The Bangsa Melayu would be a parallel ‘race-nation’ to the other Malayan nation, the Negara-Bangsa, making the tripartism between Raja, Bangsa and Negara a delicate balance. Onn Jaafar as one of Umno’s founders buckled under this tension and left to found a more multicultural alternative to his own Umno.

Reinventing itself

Tunku succeeded in keeping the Umno Leviathan intact, but not without extraordinary manoeuvres. The reconstituted demography of the new Malaysia in 1965, with ‘Chinese’ Singapore out and ‘Bumiputera’ Sabah and Sarawak in, presented itself as an opportunity to seal Umno as an even mightier Leviathan. In the Bumiputera, Umno had its majority, and in the Bangsa Melayu, its largest homogeneous bloc of a cultural community. The body-politic was secured, though in fact never stabilised. Even the creation of Malaysia post-1965 was an insufficient boost for Umno to rule the roost.

Then came the NEP, but not before the riots of May 1969 had made its impact. Although a paradox (one needs a racially-divisive tool to end racial division, says Mahathir in his book, The Malay Dilemma), the NEP, or rather its idea of affirmative action was highly successful in winning (and keeping) the consensus of the peoples within the Leviathan.

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Yet again, the NEP, as pure affirmative action policy was inadequate for the nourishment of the Leviathan. The Mahathir administration intensified crony and rentier capitalism, where Umno-centric businesses were likely to be more successful with blood-ties, party-ties and patronage combining to amass anything and everything in the name of Bumiputeraism, from land, forests, and water, to the public treasury. As straightforward as that.

Umno actually came close to annihilation with the factional split between Mahathir’s Team A and Tengku Razaleigh’s Team B. The fallout of this rivalry led to another triumphant manoeuvre; like greased lightning the deregistration of old Umno was followed by the birth of a new Umno. So rapid was the delivery that no one thinks of the current Umno as being a mutant of its older namesake. This new Leviathan was even more bent on continuing. It just grew and grew, helped along by the infamous constitutional crisis, the taming of the judiciary, the mobilisation of bias of public institutions, as in getting the Election Commission to ensure its electoral advantage and the civil service to be its loyal accessory.

As it turned out, Umno, the Leviathan, was an extremely innovative beast, never failing to reinvent itself at its game of staying alive.

Over the Anwar sacking when Malays started taking to the streets in 1998 in a big way (not since 1946) Umno creatively switched to using the moral ploy to put a brake on yet another round of its possible demise. But like the NEP the morality game was a paradox; posing as the paragon of righteousness, Umno unashamedly unleashed an astounding array of immoral tactics. To rescue the Bangsa Melayu from the pull of Reformasi, it invoked sex and sodomy to stir the Malay imagination. It was as though the Leviathan was being infected by a single powerful, immoral virus, Anwar. Ridding itself of the latter, never mind its enormous costs, including ‘liberating’ the Malays from their sense of malu and pawning away the country’s dignity, would breathe new life into the besieged Leviathan.

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Body without soul

But Anwar’s acquittal may have left Umno searching for another gambit. Clutching now at a few straws include saving Malay-Muslims from the threat of apostasy, from Christians, Hindus, Chinese, and pretty soon, very likely, from non-Umno-loving Malays.

In all of the above it is the body of the Leviathan that is being rescued, no longer the Bangsa Melayu as its lifeblood. Umno was pulling out all stops to save its body, not its soul, from disintegrating. The latest rescue attempt by Daim Zainuddin reduces the Bangsa Melayu and the voters of Sabah and Sarawak into pawns on a giant chessboard. In an endgame will the Queen, fair play and decency, be sacrificed to save Umno, the King? Daim says that election is after all a ‘competition’, and happily for him, the referee is on the Leviathan’s side.

What might a body sans its soul and substance look like? Like an angel wearing Prada, heavenly in form, decadently stylish, but decaying on the inside. The Devil is working overtime.

Dr Maznah Mohamad, an Aliran member, is a Malaysian academic based in Singapore.

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chan charlie
chan charlie

lets be objective- what did our leaders left behind- a legacy of corrupt practices n financial scandals- see lah- MAS gate- COW gate – PKFZ – submarines gate n so many others>> why>> why are these leaders so caught up in GREED- CORRUPTION where the SLOGAN IS _ BERSIH_ CEKAP N AMANAH?? is this slogan now DIRTY OR KOTOR LAH// who coined this SLOGAN – its M lah

tun
tun

Haa.. to aliran … debate wth me ? N to the writer ur being used … to despise ur own race.. wake up makcik

tun
tun

I beg to differ from u umno never discriminate others if we do surely the top 10 billionaires are all malays its we the nativ who feel like a 3rd class citizen in our own motherland.. umno too much ditolak diansur to pls this ungrateful .. n its a fact DAP is chinese bigot racist … n umno is an idiot on term of pleasing others way too much…

tun
tun

Sama rata is accepted n we are truly malaysian only if 1. Close this segregation chinese school only one type of school 2. Wealth of this nation is distributed equally, now from the top 10 all 8 chinese 1 malay 1 indian whers the justice n fairness ? N yet u chinese say we discriminate u isnt that silly.. its we the native n the indian who are being discriminated economically ….

tun
tun

Dt maznah how cud u allow urself being a tool to … to despise ur own race.. the jewish people wherever they go they always proud of their race.. thers good lesson from them

tun
tun

I wanna take the bull by its horn… Dr maznah i challenge u to debate wth me n my first salvo is ur able to be wat ur now a doctorate bcoz og umno policy to help malay.. if DAP wrested power during may 13 u ll not be at way ur now … ur jus a cikgu at tadika now…. Dispute me pls

tun
tun

N maybe to ur surprise thers also an affirmativ policy to uplift the native ther in u.s …. U see ur not that educated likr wat i thot about u befor so does france so does australia n hey go n study first broaden ur knowledge … u don deserve my respect

Isma
Isma

tun, you’re a real wonder, you know that?have a great week, whats left of it.

tun
tun

I say to u isma ur an idiot … its not crutches u silly its an affirmativ policy to uplift the native same like u.s… maybe i wont call u liberal but im gonna u a sheer idiot … shame on u !!! I bet u took the 5pct discount buying ur own hse wat a hypoctite of u… ur merely a tool of this fascist n if u know how to read whos the 10 billionaire in msia, thats why i say it to u ur a sheer idiot by suggesting abolishing this affirmative policy… Shame on u !!!

Isma

En tun, you were in U.S. for 10 years? And you learned to value crutches there? Wake up, there is no free lunch and I learned that here in Malaysia. You seem ignorant of the fact that life can be tough and we have to be tough to survive and really smart to thrive. Nobody on crutches can control his own destiny. You decide what you want to be and do and I defend your right to do so. Is that being liberal?

tun
tun

To those malay liberals like u isma n writer i say to u wake up never let urself being a tool by others to destroy ur own people, i studied n worked in u.s more than 10 yrs im more modern n liberal than u but wen i come back i notice all the buildings n bisness own by one race in my tanah tumpah darah sendiri.. whers the fairness ? To suggest malay don need affirmativ action anymore is so idiotic of u.. u sud fight corruption in umno in DAP as well its the implementation u sud fight but umno shall not be attacked coz the policy is damn good.. go n expose DAP corruption as well less than a year ruled perak the contract of uniform (allegedly) went to his wife.. wud u imagine how corrupt DAP if they come in power 10 yrs ? N this ambabiga (allegedly) a murtad n gay advocate a sane mind ll puke to even hear her name.. wakey wakey bro

tun
tun

U are also silly isma by saying racism is far less dangerous than corruption, hav u heard rwanda, hav u heard bosnia do u know how the red indians wer wiped out… Jus bcoz umno is corrupt u use that to justify khianati ur own bangsa ? I cant accept that umno is very clear in his policy to help poor malays … dont be fool by ur anger n ignorance …

tun
tun

Isma, its a fact DAP is racist chinese supremacist 1.malaysian malaysia everybody is sama rata wen in fact malay n indian are damn poor look around u who own all the bisness n buildings 2. Why they want a separate chinese school if we malay go to france can we open a separate malay school ? 3. (They) never bark about malay poverty or education its all about chinese chinese n chinese issue.. i called myself a nationalist if u hav 2 daughters one is so intelligent n one is handicapped who u wud giv attention most ? Is it fair if u ask both of ur girls to compete running 100 m ? N to say wr dont need crutches anymore is an idiot of u look at percentage of economy building bisnes who own this semenanjung tanah melayu ? The affirmativ quota shall for we malay the nativ shall be 70 pct not 30.. n to tell u the truth if we let the DAP rule as since 1957 believe u cant be wher are u now u cant even know how to speak… Read more »

Isma
Isma

Tun, to respond and add on a little, corruption is a far more serious crime then racism any time. Besides, UMNO’s corruption is well documented while DAP’s racism is, so far, mostly in name calling by its rivals, that too from UMNO and its supporters. I normally do not like to respond to irrational emails containing rude and crude language like yours tends to be, but since you do concede my key point that UMNO is corrupt, let’s consider what is racism. If you can agree a racist is someone who looks down on other races while stubbornly defending his own no matter how illogical his arguments are, don’t you think that is how UMNO behaves? … Where did rent seeking rights come from? Where did bumiputra discounts come from? Who is clearly racist? Why do malays need crutches (as commented by Tun M once)? Yes, its true, malays were once marginalised in our own country, but haven’t we won political independece? If you are thinking of financial, or economic, independence look around you. Every one in this country is fighting or at least thinking about… Read more »

Diva
Diva

Isma, I have never heard more intelligent comments from others like the one you have given, My respect for you brother, when we stop to see that we are Malays,Indians Chinese then we as Malaysians have evolved into a higher breed of people. It is sad that UMNO is still using race card to scare Malays. Enough is enough la bro. 50 years of economic marginalising has got to stop somewhere. Tun I feel your fear but trust me, the other races just want an equal living style, not an enslaved one like the one we are living at the moment, we are 3rd class citizens in our own country, time to become more than that

Saudia Atan

All Because Of Power, Even You Have all The Power And Fame, What Is The Use If You Lost Your Soul, Jehanam ONLY FIT The Corrupted, Wicked And The SINNERs. MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL, REMEMBER WE ARE HERE TO TRANSIT TO A BETTER PLACE OR A MORE HORRIFIC PLACE..THE CHOICE IS YOURS.

tun
tun

If ur not that intelligent to calculate pls use a calculator im sure u know wat is compounded interest rite haa u do the math, i dare u to ask lks n lge to show u an audited acct of money derived from selling tables at their ceramahs since the past 40yrs …

tun
tun

Im not a fool ur an actual bigot racist wen ur own skin corrupt u don even mention it.. DAP is a nepotism party father is appointed adviser wthout election son i a cm of penang altho he isnt born ther daugter in law is a yb n err the dictator lks is more than 40yrs helming DAP.. they u

Jangan Lawan Towkay
Jangan Lawan Towkay

If selling table dinners can make billions, we’ll all go in right?

As if people no need to eat and has no expenses to pay to be in politics.

Politics is not cheap, you need to fund many things especially election machinery that work well, and in so many places too.

Tun, you are with the devil to try and fool us with such twisted logic.

Mejat Junid
Mejat Junid

One scandal after another-now it’s the Minister who is keeping the actress or hooker. This young girl attracted by money-pays $25,000/- towards installments for 2 luxury cars. The Minister’s mistress owns a bungalow. Earns $1.5 million Ringgit-for what –guess? In Malaysia millions pay that sums if they bought a proton. Nowadays when they get caught they become angels-before those vampires. Now Sharizat runs off to Mecca….

tun
tun

Isma, i know very well that umno is corrupt but i also know DAP is racist…, i also know anwar is (an alleged) sodomist liar, … i also know ambabiga is (allegedly supporting) murtad n gay advocate… Pls ask how many billions DAP amassed fom selling table dinners since the past 40yra? …

tun
tun

May my people wakey wakey use ur head pls

tun saifuddin
tun saifuddin

Do u know why this [email protected] hates umno so much ? .. to all those so called liberal malay wake up pls hey im more modern than u liberal heads but wen come to my race n religion dont u ever try to smear it…

saifuddin
saifuddin

Very well thot n now u do understand why we … support umno … i ll never let … subjugate my own race n religion.. err the threat of [email protected] is very real to enslave the liberal n idiotic malay u as a malay sud be alarmed we hav no alternativ but to unite under umno …

Isma
Isma

Saifuddin, UMNO would be very, very happy to know that malays like you still happily buy their story. Dulu, kini & selamanya. Never mind that UMNO’s leaders have the worst record of theft, corruption and sexual misconducts, they are part of this wonderful party made up of malays and must be supported. Never mind this bunch of liars & cheats really only thinks of malays they can use. Sorry to inform you, but then again, maybe you know but pretend not to know because you are being used …

najib manaukau

Is this where part of the 250 million ringgits gone to ?

Al Tugauw

UMNO today is a dead body that still “lives” on, resurrected & kept alive by a combination of money, power, … bomohs, evil spells & jinns, a zombie that threatens to consume the whole of Malaysia in its deadly quest for more power, wealth & gory glory. Only the efforts of the people and the will of God Almighty can stop their deadly curse.