Friday, November 28, 2014

Najib making Umno less relevant, says columnist

Published: 28 November 2014
Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak is seen here with his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (left) at the Umno general assembly. He is making the party less relevant with his new approaches. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 28, 2014.

Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak is seen here with his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (left) at the Umno general assembly. He is making the party less relevant with his new approaches. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 28, 2014. 
Umno is losing its appeal among more Malaysians, and its president Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been the cause of this with new approaches that pushed the party out of the political spotlight, effectively making it less relevant to the people, The Edge Review columnist, Bridget Welsh, wrote.
Among these were the "outsourcing" of Umno's traditional role as defender of the Malays to right-wing groups like Perkasa, competing with PAS to be the defender of Islam, use of government resources and machinery to dispense patronage, and relegating the party to the sidelines in the making of government policy.
Writing in this week's edition of the digital magazine, Welsh, a political analyst, said Najib had changed Umno's role and in so doing, made the party "less politically relevant".
She noted that Umno has long relied on the "racial insecurity" of Malays to maintain power but outsourcing its role as defender of the Malays to other groups had "marked the start of Umno's slide to the sidelines".
Although these groups received government funding and were closely linked to Umno, holding memberships in both, they had come to take over Umno's position in spearheading calls to protect Malay interests.
The next approach, competing with PAS to "position Umno as the defender of Islam in Malaysia" effectively moved Umno further from its "moderate roots", causing it to be perceived by the public as becoming more zealous and hardline.
Najib, as prime minister, allowed increased funding for Islamic institutions, Islamic-based groups, religious schools and the state's religious apparatus, and while this impacted PAS negatively, it also strengthened the religious bureaucracy within the government service, making it even more powerful and autonomous, Welsh noted.
Equally damaging to Umno's ability to win new support was Najib's use of government handouts which "replaced the party as the vehicle for wooing voters".
Of such initiatives, the 1Malaysia People's Aid programme (BR1M) was the most visible and was used widely during elections.
This re-branding of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, during election campaigns, served to take the focus off Umno and its baggage, but the party no longer became the "face of political patronage". While loyalty to Umno was still expected, it was "less direct", Welsh said.
Welsh used these approaches to illustrate how Umno's decline in the public eye had come from an unlikely cause – from "within the party leadership itself".
"In fact, one of the distinguishing features of Najib Razak’s tenure has been the displacement of Umno as a truly dominant political actor," she wrote.
The moves to outsource Umno's role as defender of the Malays, to appear more Islamic and to hide behind the face of government as benefactor was the party's way of dealing with the massive loss of support in the general election of 2008, she said.
Umno then was rejected for its racial politics and corruption, and went on to lose its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Welsh said Umno was unable to transform itself in response to the public's new political awareness, and opted instead for different tactics, which only worsened its political capital.
Other approaches detrimental to the party have been in the area of party and election financing, and government engagement, Welsh added.
She said Najib had to tap from "new vehicles for election funding, including the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, which was a departure from the past whereby Umno itself had a sufficient war chest.
"Today, other investment arms and entities have changed Umno’s dominant position. It has opened up alternative sources of funding for party leaders, but at the same time reduced the party’s role in setting the direction of financing," she wrote.
Yet another way Najib has diminished Umno's role was in reducing the party's engagement in policy-making, having brought in "hired consultants" to the government, Welsh said.
"The common feature of all of these changes has been to push Umno back from the political front line," Welsh concluded, and while this had made it "more obsessed" with clinging to power, it was ironically contributing to its own decline. – November 28, 2014.
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