After covering and attending to Umno events (including general assemblies) for almost 30 years - reaching the party from its very top leadership to the most 'down-to-earth' members throughout the country - I found out that there is nothing wrong with the party. But there is something not right about the leadership and the lost link between its office bearers and the grass root.
I am grateful to the inventors of technology. IT provides a superb highway to get our message across. As to whether the message is well received and perceived by those at the top, does not matter as I believe some of them will read it. As former PM Tun Dr Mahathir said, blogs and the new media are the best resort for anyone to say something about anything, including what one feels about his party and the government.
Journalists who are Umno members didn't get much chance to speak at any general assembly. Only a handful of them hold party position at branch of division levels. As pro-Umno and pro-BN journalists, they rather stay focus on their job, which is supporting the legitimate government. The only occasion a journo was allowed to speak at the general assembly was Ahmad A Talib from the NSTP Group about 12 years ago (did he recite a poem?). That was during Tun Dr Mahathir's era.
Most journalists who are close with Umno and BN leadership are the pool of people who knows a lot of things, some of which are considered private and confidential. They will write some and keep some to themselves. In order to protect the party's interest, most of the secrets became the 'untold stories'. Only when they retire or when the politicians are no longer hold any position in the government or Umno, some parts of it would leak.
Even that, I've seldom heard prime ministers or any Cabinet members - in any intro to their speeches - said something like ".... Tan Sri-Tan Sri, Dato'-Dato'... and members of the Press..." whereas it is a common practice in many countries. In fact, most foreign dignitaries who came to Malaysia often acknowledged them by saying, "... and the distinguished members of the media/Press...".
And frankly, such a phrase does not come easy from Umno leaders. It's their duty to report. However, it would be soothing to hear it once in a while.
Actually, journalists do not need such an eulogy. But about 4 million members of the party who have been loyal through all the spics and specks of Umno, deserve just the right appreciation and recognition. It's not a reward in cash and kind that they ask. It will be just suffice if the leadership listen to their woes and resolve it.
Over the years, those who delivered speeches at the general assemblies are a group of sycophants who would try their very best to become the best speaker in narrating eulogies for the president, deputy president and the party top leadership. They will spend almost half of their speeches attributing to how good, charismatic and efficient the leaders are, and as such we must continue giving them our undivided support. Very invigorating!
Umno is a big house. While the leaders enjoy the privileges of sitting on the couch, watching TV and sipping at their coffee while deliberating strategies, those who mix them coffee and frying 'pisang goreng' should be appreciated as well. We must always keep our kitchen spick and span. Only then can we have a wonderful home.
It is very unfortunate that millions of Umno members are not able to attend any general assembly. Those who made it are usually fully-sponsored by division heads or others. The rich will come and stay a week in hotels or rented places around KL. And there are also members who had never been to Kuala Lumpur.
I remember during one of our Merdeka Day celebrations in the 1990s, Umno brought about 30 party veterans to KL, putting them up at a 4-star hotel. Aged between 70 and 85, none of them ever had the opportunity to visit the capital city. It was easy to locate which rooms they were in - slippers, shoes and sandals outside the doors!
And I was there, very much moved with what I saw and heard. A few members of the media just couldn't hold back their tears in disbelief that the unsung heroes did not manage to taste a tiny slice of the fruits of Independence and development. I believe some of them are gone now, leaving their personal and discreet legacy behind, unknown to us - the Malaysians!
Of course we must support our leaders. However, we must also know how to appreciate the support and those who give us the support. The Malays are known for being courteous and loyal to their leaders. They have faith in good leadership. And they are very tolerance too to the extent that a good leader deserves something (or should be rewarded with) for their retirement.
That is why we wouldn't mind the ministers, deputy ministers or other 'good and performing' leaders got something in return for their excellent service so that they enjoy a good life once they retire. The Malays too wouldn't mind having a plate of rice with salted fish as long as the good leaders enjoy chicken kurma and beef curry. This is examples how extreme the Malays could be in upholding a good leadership.
As time passes by, rhetoric of the general assembly gets thicker as if it has become an inveterate among speakers. The Opposition will normally become a good topic to blast, and sometimes the element of Malay-chauvinism cannot be avoided. And again, I saw and heard yesterday how a delegate from Kelantan, Alwi Che Mat aroused the floor by avowing, "Orang Cina hendak jambatan emas, kita beri tapi orang Cina hendak darah, tak bolehlah!"
After 64 years Umno was founded and 54 years of Independence, the Malays backwardness has nothing more to do with the Chinese, Indians or others. While the Umno-led government keeps on formulating new approach to uplift the well being of Malays and Bumiputeras, it is the Malays who should emulate the Chinese in building up their business empires and wealth.
But the Malays are also known for their orthodox manner in doing business and moving their politics. Back-stabbing, bad disposition, factionalism, unwilling to compete, irresolute, willy-nilly attitude and dawdling with opportunity, are among their habitual norms that hinder and slow down their pace.
Not without saying, greedy. Since opportunity is made abundant under the NEP - which saw them being prioritized for government contracts - many Malay entrepreneurs got into competition among each other. And when Tun Dr Mahathir introduced privatization and Malaysia Incorporated, more of these new and upcoming businessmen did not fail to opportune from it, thus creating a group of millionaires.
However, our hope of seeing them help and inculcate others to become millionaires just like them, went ashtray. Had each and every one of the 10 Malay millionaires helped turn another 10 Malay entrepreneurs into millionaires, I think we would have about 20 Malay billionaires and at least 10,000 millionaires today!
But they were overcame by greed. In addition, politics began to play its lead in securing more contracts. While existing businessmen got richer, the up and coming ones didn't have much chance to get nearer to the gold mine.
And this was when Umno grass root members started to perceive the party as belonged to the 'rich and famous', especially when those with the cash and deemed close to the Malay millionaires, were made division heads and to other posts. Soon, the showcase and competition for luxury took shape when this grass root leaders built new houses (or villas), drove the Benz, BMW and other expensive makes, to the astonishment of us, the poor ordinary members.
Just take a look at them during each Umno general assembly and any by-election. During the Merlimau state seat by-election early this year, you could easily spot two 'Hummers' at the BN Command Center beside the new mosque. Mercedez Benz, BMW, Volvo, Lexus, Estima and Alphard are all around. Even a Porsche is so common nowadays!
So, what does the party general assembly means to us, the grass root members? Almost nothing, except for the calls to strengthen the party, stand united behind the leaders and continue voting for BN in the next general election. While most of the members get old in providing undivided support to the leaders and the party they adore and love, upholding the Malay supremacy in politics and keeping up with 'ketuanan Melayu', this getting-old and hard-working members can only watch and listen to glamorous stories of how their young leaders got rich and richer.
Umno is a perfect party for the Malays but the leadership must revise its approach in dealing with the grass root members. Is there any tangible explanation to their assumption and perception that those who go all out to grab any party portfolios are actually going after the money and luxury in-store for them, and not really after the responsibility? It's difficult because the facts stand very loud and clear.
The grass root members do not need a luxury car or a new better house. They want to feel being close to the top leaders. As such, they need their respective division or branch heads to channel their woes to the top leaders. They want to be heard. Solving their problems is not everything about keeping close rapport with them. What's most important is the ears lent.
However, most division heads are of the general opinion that they should become Members of Parliament while a branch chief must be made to stand in the general election for the State seat. If his deputy or secretary is chosen as an election candidate, the whole party organisation in that division can be expected to be in a woe betide situation. Factionalism will be imminent, and so is internal bickering.
When things like this happen, nobody would listen to the members or transmit their message to the State Umno chief, namely the Mentri Besar or Chief Minister. There were also cases where the State Umno Liaison chief was fed only with 'good news' from all divisions because any problem is deemed as pointing to the division head's weakness.
Another issue that the top leadership never took any notice is the existent of 'mini empires' at some Umno divisions. We lambast the Opposition for practicing such politics but we turn out to be the kettle who calls the pot black. If I am the division head, my wife will be the Wanita head, my son will lead the Pemuda wing while my daughter leads the Puteri. Such a mini political empire makes Umno grass root members so blase.
In this globalisation era, almost everything is not a secret anymore. Information can be obtained and retrieved at a touch of a button. As the country moves forward, the society's demand gets more sophisticated.
However, Umno still needs that good human touch to stay relevant. While we are so proud of being praised by the world for our achievement, and in drowning ourselves in words of compliments about Umno and Barisan Nasional, how actually do we fare in the eyes of our ordinary members?
Just as the many trophies we won at various international competition for innovation, design and researches, how many of such findings were put to good use, meaning in helping our people improve their life? And how many road show have we organised to explain how the ETP and other transformation plans can benefit them? What is the significant of Iskandar Malaysia, NCER and ECER to the Malays when the bulk of business and business lots are affordable only to the non-Malays and foreigners? How and who should do all the explanation?
I will still vote for the ruling party in the next general election but I am not sure about others. The 12th general election was quite a disaster for Umno and BN. The top leadership may take my three postings lightly but petty matters have tendency to 'snowball' into a delicate issue.
I have written what I feel, what the grass root members feel about Umno. Criticism does not mean any ill feeling towards the leadership. If we are not open to criticism, good idea and positive thinking, even God will not help us.
Whatever it is, I am glad that my 4-year old daughter can sing 'Lagu Umno' well enough. When I took her on vice-president Hishammuddin's visit to Besut division a few months ago, she became a centre of attraction for singing it aloud.
Please remember - the road to ruin is always kept under good repairs!