By Kee Thuan Chye
Umno President Najib Razak diminished the stature of a great man when he said last Saturday at his party’s general assembly that Umno fought for the “same cause” as Nelson Mandela, who had died two days before.
What same cause? Mandela fought against racial discrimination whereas Umno institutionalised racial discrimination a few decades ago and still upholds it.
Mandela never advocated black supremacy, whereas Umno promotes Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy).
After he became president of South Africa, Mandela proposed reconciliation and sought to bring the races in his country together, whereas in Malaysia, Umno divides the races in order to keep itself in power.
Even at its general assembly, Umno’s delegates lobbied for the ethnocentric ‘1Melayu’ to replace the more inclusive ‘1Malaysia’, bashed the Chinese for not supporting the party at the last general election, and demanded a bigger stake in the economy, totally ignoring the reality that most of the country’s economic development is now already in Malay hands.
Furthermore, no less an Umno leader than Awang Adek Hussin, who is also the country’s deputy finance minister, proposed that private companies should declare how they support the Bumiputera agenda in their annual reports. He also insisted that, because Malays now make up almost 70 per cent of the population, the hiring policy of private companies should reflect the country’s racial composition at every level.
This is effectively saying that CEOs of private companies should also be Malay, and that their staff should be 70 per cent Malay. Indeed. Apa lagi Umno mahu? (What more does Umno want?)
On the other hand, does the civil service reflect the country’s racial composition? Are there 30 per cent non-Malay heads of department? In our public universities, are 30 per cent of vice-chancellors non-Malay?
Mandela did not take away the businesses of the whites in the name of affirmative action for the black South Africans. He allowed the whites to continue to control the economy and as a result of its being in experienced hands, South Africa’s economy grew at a steady, robust rate.
Mandela also believed in inclusiveness, in humanity and human rights. But Umno abhors lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTs) although they are no less human beings. One delegate denigrated them by saying at the assembly that LGBTs exist so that “orang jahat (bad people) can be purged, leaving behind only the good people to inherit the earth”. How simplistically stupid, or stupidly simplistic.
Neither does Umno tolerate Shiite (Syiah) Muslims. Delegates urged that the Federal Constitution be amended to give recognition only to Sunni Islam. And Umno vice-president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in his customary aggressive manner of winning support from the Umno flock, seized the moment to accuse the “No. 2” man in the Opposition party PAS of being a Shiite leader. He called for action to be taken against the latter. It was a clear manifestation of gutter politics posing under the guise of religion.
How, then, could Najib have had the temerity to draw parallels between Umno and Mandela? They couldn’t be more worlds apart. How could he have said what he said and not appear foolish to the outside world? He might have been able to deceive his audience of Umno members, but he cannot deceive the intelligent and discerning.
He apparently rationalised it by claiming that no race has been deprived under the New Economic Policy (NEP). He probably knows better – or else he is ignorant or dumb – but he still played to the gallery. When he asked his audience, “Were (other races) sidelined during the NEP? Did we ever hurt the livelihood of other races?”, they of course responded with a resounding “no”. This of course is an act of syiok sendiri too.
They chose to conveniently forget the millions of non-Malays who over the decades have been deprived of places in public universities, scholarships, jobs in the civil service, promotions, higher ranks in the security forces, government projects (except the big crony Chinese companies), etc.
They pretended not to know that the non-Malays most hurt by the NEP were the low-income and middle-class groups. Many of their children could not pursue tertiary education through lack of means. Those who could had parents who worked extra hard to make extra money to send their children to private institutions.
They chose to ignore the truth that the push for Ketuanan Melayu caused non-Malays to be sidelined in unjust, uncountable ways and turned them into second-class citizens.
Now, to add insult to injury, they profess no knowledge of all that, still present the Malays as victims after more than 50 years of independence from the British “oppressors”, brand the “foreign races” (meaning non-Malays) as threats, lament that the Malays might become “slaves in their own land”, ask for more handouts, more projects, more quotas.
Enough is never enough. At every annual general assembly, they dish out the same laments, the same non-Malay bashing, the same demands for more opportunities while at the same time moaning that Malay entrepreneurs still need “hand-holding”. Their thinking is this: Ask and it shall be given. Just like that. No need to prove their abilities first, no need to be free of “hand-holding” first, no need to work to attain their goals. That’s the attitude they take.
And this is equated with Mandela’s struggle?
This sort of attitude exhibited by Umno is what pisses off a lot of people and makes them hate the party. If Najib’s comparison between Umno and Mandela doesn’t piss off the South African Government, well, that’s its business. But if it does, President Jacob Zuma might want to demand an apology from Najib for showing disrespect and distorting the principles of the great Mandela.
Najib cannot exploit a good man’s name to justify his party’s petty schemes.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.