Tengku Razaleigh's declination of Zaid Ibrahim's invitation to join PKR is unimportant. But what thinks of the present state of UMNO is.
I am under no illusions that Umno is bound for destruction on its present course. Neither do I hold unrealistic expectations about the possibility of reform when the rot has gone so deep.
I offered myself for the Umno presidency last year on an agenda of thorough-going reform. I proposed a complete democratisation of Umno by opening all positions to election by every ordinary member and abolishing quotas on candidacy. I said Umno must do this to be consistent with the principle of democratic governance demanded by the Federal Constitution. Every member’s vote must count, and every member must be free to offer himself for leadership. I was stopped by the quota system that I opposed.
I am the last person to entertain illusions about the ease of reforming Umno. The party that I joined half a century ago as an idealistic young man has indeed lost its soul. It has become corrupt, this corruption has weakened it, and as it grows weaker it is tempted more and more to fan racial feeling and abuse public institutions to maintain power. This is a death spiral.
I am aware of Umno’s weaknesses. I have not failed to point them out from a sense of loyalty to the cause for which Umno was formed in 1946, a cause which our present corruption betrays.
I am not in Umno because I “harbour hope of saving Umno” in its present incarnation. I remain because the cause for which Umno was formed, and the principles which guided its promotion, has not gone away just because we have lost our way 60 years later, and they need to be upheld.
The high principle of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, their devotion to nationbuilding, their incorruptibility, their sense of fair play and their devotion to duty, exemplified for me as a young man the meaning of this cause, and how it could be both Malay and Malaysian, nationalist and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary, at one and the same time.
The Malay cause was not premised on an eternal zero sum game between the native and the immigrant. We meant to build a nation united by a prosperous, confident and enlightened Malay community, not a permanent state of divide and rule by political lowlife. We meant to foster Malay leadership worthy of national leadership, and we looked to our common future as Malaysia rather than to our past as people accidentally brought together by colonial history.
So much is ideal. Yet it is important that we hold up ideals in today’s moral chaos. The future of our political system lies in a healthy, competitive democracy. If so, whether or not it looks realistic right now, we shall need a reformed incarnation of this nation’s most important political party. The Umno ideal which I embraced half a century ago has a role to play in the future we hope for.
A second reason I shall not be accepting Zaid’s kind offer is that things have deteriorated to the point that party affiliation is really not the issue anymore. The issue is how we are to save our country.
Our major public institutions and our political system have degenerated to the point that the public no longer trusts them. A democratic system of government cannot function below a certain threshhold of public confidence. The suspicious death of Teoh Beng Hock under the custody of a watchdog body reporting directly to a prime minister who has his own public confidence issues may have pushed us below that threshhold.
What we must do now goes beyond political parties. We need the rakyat to rise up to claim their institutions, and demand that our public institutions are answerable to them. We must wake up to our sovereignty as citizens, reclaim the constitution which constitutes us as a nation and guarantees our rights, and demand a comprehensively reformed government to restore public confidence. We must do this before it is too late.