Amid strident cries, a voice for reform in Umno
Posted Disember 18, 2008on:
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 – An Umno deputy minister says in a new book that his party must become more inclusive or risk losing permanently the votes it lost during the last general election.
Saifuddin Abdullah, who is also running for a seat on his party’s supreme council, is calling for more open debate and bipartisanship in his party and in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
In a sign that there is a small but growing move within Umno for reforms in the party, which stand in contrast to the more strident approach of those who want the party to get back to its nationalist Malay roots, the arguments made by Saifuddin, who is also Temerloh MP, are for the party to change by promoting a more open and inclusive government.
Saifuddin, who is Deputy Minister for the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry, said he was not going against his own party by promoting inclusivity in governance.
In his book entitled New Politics, he presented anecdotal evidence that the protest votes that benefitted the opposition parties in the last general election would become real support for the Pakatan Rakyat if BN and Umno do not change.
The publication of this book was described by former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad as a bold move, but was tolerated due to the March 8 election results.
“It is equally rare in Malaysia, as far as I know, for a Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister, while in office, to write a book critical of the very people in the group that he himself belongs and depends on and the practices which, he might be a party to,” wrote Abdul Hamid in a review of the book.
Saifuddin disagreed that he was following the footsteps of other Umno leaders such as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, both of whom have written books with views critical of the par“Instead of being rhetorical, I am just saying what should be done. Go back to basics. Let’s go back to what Umno is all about, idealism. We have to change the way we do things. We must accept the fact that people have changed, the world has changed, so we ty policies or approach while still in Umno.
“I am not going against the party. I am a believer in Umno and Barisan Nasional. All I am doing is trying to advocate new ways of doing things. It is not a new idea in the first place. These are the things I have discussed in the past,” said Saifuddin in an interview with The Malaysian Insider.
should change. I don’t think I am going against the party, I am just offering a way for the party to move forward,” he said.
He also touched on his experience when he was forming the Temerloh Parliamentary Consultative Council or the MPPT, a forum for Saifuddin to gather the views of his constituents in the decision-making process. But his attempt to appoint Pas’s Kuala Semantan assemblyman Syed Hamid Syed Mohamed had to be put on hold.
“I wanted to have the Pas assemblyman as a member of MPPT, but I was cautioned by my Umno friends. But I think I have to wait for a while. In the first place I need to promote why MPPT is important. As an MP I still feel we are too partisan in our deliberation and our debate. I want to see at least on certain issues of public interest, Parliamentarians can be more non-partisan,” said Saifuddin.
But his disagreement with most Umno leaders does not end there, as the first-term MP, who is running for the party’s supreme council post, still believes that Umno election candidates should debate openly, a move described by certain party leaders as something which would lead to greater division in the Malay nationalist party.
“This is just a debate about party policies and governing policies. What is wrong with debating party and governing policies. Umno is a ruling party so the constituents must know what is happening in the party,” he said.
“As an MP, my constituents are not only interested in my services, but they are also interested to know, if I become the MT member of Umno, what is there for them? They have all the rights to know. How am I going to contribute? So there are a lot of issues traditionally considered to be Umno matters, which to me, are no longer Umno matters exclusively,” added Saifuddin.
He is also of the view that ending the live telecast of the Umno general assembly was a mistake as it can be used as a platform to show BN’s unity.
“All this while people have been talking that Barisan Nasional is a marriage of convenience of parties fighting for different ethnic groups. Having our party assembly debate live is the best way of showing people their perception is wrong,” said Saifuddin.
He was also not worried if his attempt in promoting openness is rejected by Umno leaders or if he has to suffer the same fate as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi whose reform agenda was met with resistance from party leaders.
“I believe that for an idea to progress, you just need to champion it. Sometimes you may face resistance. Resistance to change is normal especially when you are bringing new idea; you just have to do it.”