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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A third political force in the making?

With Umno's speeches in last week's general assembly contravening the BN spirit, other BN component parties may want to reconsider the future of the coalition.

Bank Negara introduced six major measures to stem the outflow of funds from the country last Friday in the hope of checking the depreciation of the ringgit.

Unfortunately, the effects were poorer than anticipated because the just concluded Umno general assembly failed to lift market confidence but has instead deepened public concerns for the country’s future.

Umno president Najib Razak announced in his opening speech that the party would work with PAS, signaling that Umno is no longer prepared to take the more liberal middle path.

Najib’s speech also set the tone of the assembly. As a result, the delegates’ subsequent speeches were distinctly marked by the Malay-first, exclusionist, protectionist and populist mentality.

There was even a delegate urging the government to maintain its policy not to recognise the UEC certificate.

If a country were to experience real economic transformation, it will require a lot of talented people in various fields. Derogatory remarks on the UEC and Chinese education will not help bridge the gap between the different ethnic groups in this country, especially in the economic sector.

As if that is not enough, some delegates also urged Umno to take back the transport ministry portfolio in the Cabinet from its BN partner, MCA.

The fact that none of the party leaders rebuked the delegate proves that BN’s power-sharing formula is no longer adhered to, and it looks ever more likely that there is no chance MCA will ever get back the three parliamentary seats it had “lent” to Umno.

An apparent right tilt was also displayed by the Youth and Women’s wings. Umno Youth vice-chief Khairul Azwan Harun said it was possible for voices calling for the closure of Chinese primary schools to reappear if Chinese Malaysians continued to support the opposition, while a Wanita Umno delegate questioned the rationale behind the appointment of non-Malay senior management personnel in GLCs.

Populist measures were introduced during the Umno assembly, including an announcement by the PM that the “MyBeautiful New Home” programme would be implemented in the near future.

Under this programme, house prices will be fixed at RM40,000, of which the buyer only needs to pay RM20,000 and the balance will be subsidised by the government.

As a matter of fact, the government has already implemented a number of affordable housing programmes, including a RM200 million fund to help first-time housebuyers with their downpayment.

The subsidies for the “MyBeautiful New Home” programme are even heavier, and this is poised to burden the treasury further.

If Umno’s mentality becomes more religionised, racist, populist and exclusionist instead of being more liberal and accommodating in encouraging Malaysians to stand on their own feet, there is little prospect the national economy will be delivered out of the current gloom.

Against the backdrop of stiff global competition, our standards in a number of key areas have remained sluggish or have even deteriorated.

For instance, Malaysia’s global ranking in the IMD World Talent Report 2016 published by Lausanne-based International Institute for Management Development has slipped from 15 last year to 19, while we are ranked a pathetic 115 among 159 countries and territories in the Human Freedom Index 2016.

Meanwhile, in the WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017, we are placed 25, down seven places from last year’s report.

As the backbone of the BN administration, by right Umno should have discussed these issues and offered the right solutions to fix the problems. Unfortunately, Umno has chosen to shrink its own scope of vision.

Umno’s latest advocacy has contravened the BN spirit and betrayed the BN roadmap. It is now time for the other BN component parties to reconsider the future of the coalition as well as this country.

MIC president Dr S Subramaniam has reminded Umno not to overlook the feelings of allies just because of a “new friend”, while MCA and 32 local Chinese organisations have set up a legal panel to study the private bill on RUU355.

Gerakan’s president Mah Siew Keong, in the meantime, has stressed that the party would oppose the bill now taken over by the federal government if it is found to be unconstitutional.

But, none of these is going to reverse Umno’s decision because they believe the only way out for the party is to tie up with PAS.

Foreseeably, the Umno-PAS collaboration will deal a fatal blow on the other BN component parties during the next general election, and may even lead to an irreversible split in the ruling coalition.

Some of the BN component parties in the peninsula as well as in Sabah and Sarawak may drop out of BN to form a third political force to fight Umno-PAS and Pakatan Harapan.

A political realignment is still on-going. While the opposition camp has yet to conclude its restructuring exercise, it is now BN’s turn to do the same.

As rightism is gaining momentum the world over, what we must do is to fight the anti-globalisation wave to the end and not to join in submission. The only thing that steers the nation forward is a moderate force that will unite all Malaysians.

Lim Sue Goan writes for Sin Chew Daily.

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