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Change is certainly gathering momentum with each passing day as the stunning elections victory seeps like dye into the entire fabric of our nation. Change brings with it its own challenges; those that don’t adapt  will quickly become irrelevant.

Nowhere is the need to adapt to change more evident than in UMNO itself.

Reinventing UMNO

UMNO-BN is a broken party now – morally bankrupt, politically exhausted, without  credibility, purpose or direction, and utterly bereft of the kind of leadership it will need to reinvent itself. The whole premise of its existence has been challenged and found wanting. Cut off from sources of easy money, the system of money politics that has long sustained the party will collapse. Without the prospect of immediate position, power and profit, how many will even remain in UMNO?

Two things must happen if UMNO is to successfully reinvent itself – it must find a new raison d’être [a reason to exist] and it must attract a new breed of leaders.

The manner in which race and religion once dominated our politics is changing. In time, it will hopefully be less of a determinant. Issues like good governance, justice, economic development and respect for the rights of citizens, on the other hand, will be more important. We are not there yet, of course, but we are heading in that direction.

UMNO can fall back on its failed racist agenda or it can take the high road and become a party that serves the interests of all Malaysians. Already, there is talk within UMNO of moving from a Malay to a Malaysian political party. It is left to be seen if the diehard racists within UMNO will allow this to happen. However, if it does succeed in overcoming its race-based DNA, it would be an inspiring moment, soemthing that would significantly alter the political landscape.  Certainly, it would be more than we could have hoped for.

Untainted leadership

The other thing is leadership. To survive, UMNO must attract new and untainted leaders.  There is surely no shortage of talented, well-educated and professional Malaysians out there who will rise to the challenge if given an opportunity. Just look at the PH team – they have such a bounty of highly educated men and women with the talent, passion and integrity to lead our nation forward. UMNO must find a way to similarly attract the brightest and best to fill its ranks.

The present leadership is too closely linked with the culture of corruption, racism and entitlement to be acceptable, at least at this time. They were happy to stand with Najib, even vociferously defending and praising him, despite all the evidence of wrongdoing. Half-hearted contrition now that their misdeeds are on public display just doesn’t carry much weight. They chose to stand on the wrong side of history and must now share Najib’s fate in defeat.

The very fact that they are once again contemplating a no-contest rule for the top three posts indicates how addicted they are to the old ways. Have they learned nothing from their recent debacle? What the party needs, especially now, is an open and transparent leadership contest not backroom deals that stifle it. If they can’t see that, UMNO is well and truly doomed.

In any case, if people like Zahid Hamidi, Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein want to convince the people that they are truly ready to lead a reformed UMNO, they can start by unilaterally declaring their assets.

A credible opposition

In the meantime, UMNO will be incapable of fulfilling its function as an effective counterweight to PH in Parliament. With zero credibility and zero integrity, how will they hold the PH government to account? How will they defend our democratic rights, for example, after having done so much to destroy it?  How will  UMNO help ensure that power does not corrupt the PH government when almost all of the present senior leadership are themselves suspect in the eyes of the public?

UMNO now owes it to the people of this great nation to quickly reinvent itself as a Malaysian party committed to national unity, good governance, and unselfish public service so they can take their rightful place as His Majesty’s loyal opposition in Parliament. Malaysians won’t accept anything less from them.

I, for one, having spent the better part of ten years criticizing and taking UMNO-BN to task, now hope they’ll succeed because, like it or not, they are a necessary part of our march towards a better, more democratic state.

It is often said that democracy is a work in progress; let both victor and vanquished now rededicate themselves to realizing the vision of that “sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people…” which Tengku Abdul Rahman first laid before the nation in 1957.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 20thMay 2018]

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