By KARIM RASLAN
In the era of the ‘cikgu’ activist, Umno leaders recognised that great power meant an even heavier sense of duty, but times have changed. Now, UMNO warlords build palatial palaces, with vision transported from the pages of Architectural Digest or Vogue Living.
As Umno division meetings start up this week, I would like to remind the party’s activists and provincial leaders of the gap between themselves and the people they’re supposed to be representing.
After five decades in power Umno has lost touch. Moreover, there is no sense of urgency.
When people write or even talk about Umno nowadays they tend to use words like “balance”, “relevance”, “responsibility”, “integrity” and “honesty”, and in virtually every example it’s the lack of these qualities that observers criticise.
In the past, Umno (whatever critics may say now), possessed an inalienable connection with its core voter base, the Malay community. There was trust. There was respect and there was competence.
Indeed, the party in the era of the “cikgu” activist was at one with its members and the people; they lived together, they ate together and they worked together.
At the same time the party’s leaders always understood the importance of being both Malay and Malaysian. They recognised that they carried a responsibility of leadership €“ that great power meant an even heavier sense of duty, witness Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman.
Of course, times change. Economic growth and prosperity has altered the Malay community dramatically €“ there are clear winners and losers, with the “cikgu” unfortunately among the “losers”. Still the party’s response to these shifts in prosperity has been neither effective nor productive.
The influx of rent-seekers and businessmen has turned Umno into a clearing house for government contracts. Self-interest has prevailed and the poor (and not-so-poor) of all races have been forgotten.
In Port Klang there is an extremely potent symbol of this disconnect between the party and the Malays (let’s not even mention how the non-Malays feel).
There is a house €“ more like a mansion or palace €“ that epitomises this terrible breakdown between the party and the people. Indeed, it is the ultimate symbol of all that’s gone wrong with the great party of Merdeka.
I should add that I come across brilliant, committed and professional Malay men and women regularly. When I ask them about Umno, they grimace. Some, because they’re so frustrated with the party can get quite angry €“ the anger in part comes from their disappointment with the party’s present predicament.
Whatever the case, very few people talk nowadays of wanting to join Umno and “working from within” to affect change, though I must say there are one or two idealistic fellows, and I wish them well.
Instead, I meet countless people who have chosen to serve the nation by working with PAS, PKR or DAP (such as Transparency International’s Tunku Abdul Aziz €“ now a vice-chairman of the DAP).
But first let me tell you about this house.
Imagine driving through the port town’s traffic-clogged streets. You turn off the main road and enter a humble working-class neighbourhood €“ a warren of modest single-storey terrace houses. You notice that many of the houses don’t even have fences or a front gate.
Suddenly, from a distance, you see what appears to be a tower looming above the terrace houses. It is an elegant two possibly three-storey structure, something akin to a lighthouse. The tower is gorgeous. It is beautifully built, white-clad and exquisite. You ask yourself: Is this a dream?
Turning the corner you come face-to-face with a set of lavish wrought-iron gates, the design for which is highly stylised and flamboyant. Stepping out of your car, you gaze through the gates into a world that is quite separate from the simple homes all around.
On the left, there is a large, beautifully-tended lawn, and on the right, a covered car park for countless luxury vehicles. Directly ahead of you is the house itself. It is like a vision transported from the pages of Architectural Digest or Vogue Living.
There are two capacious porte-cocheres with outside chandeliers, picture windows and fine detailing. You pause and think. This is “Damai Abad”, the residence of the late Datuk Zakaria Mat Deros, a former Umno division chief.
You’ve read the stories posted on the Internet. You’ve seen the pictures but somehow the reality is all the more astounding because most of the time it’s hard to believe what you see and read on the Internet.
If like me, you’ve been an Umno supporter (albeit qualified) all your life, you’ll step back into your car and drive off, knowing that you have witnessed something profoundly tragic and sad: a betrayal of hope and integrity.