Here we go again. The circus has come to town. What are we talking about? Of course, it’s the Umno general assembly. I’ve managed to go to every single one in the last decade. I can’t wait to do it again this year.
You would think that the assembly is of utmost important to the Malays in the country because, after all, it is the party that claims the responsibility to protect the rights and interests of their race.
But really, whatever rhetoric, manifestos and policies that are announced, it concerns many more people in this country other than just the Malays. By the very fact that Umno holds the majority and authority in the government, it is by default its policies that become national policies.
And here’s the latest that has come out from the assembly that caught my interest. It was the speech given by Umno vice-president, and also Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, at the opening of the assemblies for the party’s Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings.
The two things that I feel will make us a progressive and inclusive nation are the same two things that Zahid is now warning the Malays (and by default, the entire nation) to avoid because they would cause harm to the country – liberalism and democracy.
As reported by Bernama, Zahid says that the country is currently under threat from change brought by liberalism and democracy. But why is he so averse to them?
Take liberalism for example. Social liberalism gives importance to freedom and liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to dissent, and the respect for civil rights and gender equality.
I can’t seem to wrap my head around how his reasoning has concluded that all these freedoms can be a threat to the country and society. Such freedoms are the exact objective that a maturing society should be striving to achieve.
By labelling all these as a threat, does Zahid mean to say that we are not maturing and that we can’t have freedom? And if we can’t have freedom, is he also meaning to say that Malaysians need to be observed, controlled and policed?
Then there is democracy. Zahid says that is a threat, too. And here’s something I can’t understand either. Isn’t Malaysia a democratic country? The last time I checked, it says so in the Federal Constitution. That hasn’t been amended, has it?
Okay, fine. Before I am accused of taking his words out of context, I’ll make it clear that he said it was the different interpretation of democracy is a threat to the country. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Democracy is democracy, no matter where and how it is practiced. The principle is the same.
People need to have fair and equal representation, and we can’t run away from the fact that it is really intertwined with liberalism as well. A democracy also needs to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to dissent, civil rights and yada, yada, yada.
Basically, Zahid is trying to say that Malaysia should remain archaic and feudal, where the society is so weak and uneducated that it needs to be, like I have said, observed, controlled and policed constantly because the people don’t know any better.
The deputy prime minister also continues to stress that liberalism and democracy have created a culture of hate politics in the country.
“Indeed, we should be worried by changes taking place in our society, changes which involved not only changes to the social strata, in fact, more worryingly is the trend and thinking of the people which leads to the politics of hatred,” he said.
The only hatred I see are from groups that are associated with Umno, such as the red-shirts led by Sungai Besar Umno division chief Jamal Md Yunos, Penang Umno Youth chief Rafizal Abdul Rahim and his band of thugs, and the Umno supporters from Pasir Salak who attempted to rough up an MP on Parliament grounds.
Of course, Umno has officially and publicly disassociated itself from these people, claiming that although they are Umno members, they were and are acting on their own.
Sure, but Umno as a party has not condemned these acts and no disciplinary action or enquiry has been taken or even initiated on these people (apart from the Pasir Salak group, who have been detained for interrogation by the police).
So, if there really is a threat to the country when it comes to the misinterpretation of democracy or the idea of liberalism or whatever, then the threat really comes from Umno and its members, does it not?
So maybe that is what Zahid is talking about. He wants his fellow Umno members to stop becoming a threat to Malaysia and other Malaysians. That’s it, right? It has to be that because, logically, there is no other explanation.
ZAN AZLEE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist and academic. He believes in democracy and liberalism. Visit FATBIDIN.COM to view his work.