KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — Several Umno leaders have predicted that a proposal to allow direct membership into Barisan Nasional (BN) would result in the federal ruling coalition having a “two-tier” membership system, and see the continued existence of its component parties.
Under this new party system, BN’s membership would consist of existing members from affiliated parties like Umno, MCA and MIC as well as members who are part of BN through direct membership.
They, however, argued that dissolving race-based component parties within BN and transforming it into a single party would be “difficult” because many component party members were still “attached” to their respective parties and preferred fighting for issues on the existing race-based platform.
“The one way in which BN can become a multiracial party is if the direct membership for BN exceeds the membership of the (existing) component parties. This would then be fait accompli.
“What’s ideal for the future would be direct electorates. Look at the United States. They have Republicans as well as Democrats. Their parties are not race-based. The whole idea is to get the best Malaysians to represent BN,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.
The outspoken Umno supreme council member told The Malaysian Insider that discussions on the issue of direct membership will be the main focus during the year-end BN convention, but added that before any decision could be made, members from all component parties needed to reach a consensus on the proposal.
“We will have to see how the members accept this,” said Nazri, who said that Umno should take the lead in pushing for direct membership as well as the possibility of having a single unified party under BN to replace the current component parties.
Nazri said that the onus was now on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to “lead” the movement for change towards a more inclusive, “forward-thinking BN.”
“I am not a leader in Umno. I can only discuss and suggest ideas to the Umno supreme council. Datuk Seri Najib has to take the lead. We all have to change. If we remain as we are now we are going to lose,” said Nazri, reiterating his statement last week.
The minister blamed his BN comrades last week for driving away support with their chauvinistic ways, warning them that they could not ride on Najib’s popularity to win the general election.
Khairy believed the move to direct membership would be a good gauge of BN’s larger support.
Nazri had criticised the “communal leadership” of certain BN politicians for the public’s declining confidence in the ruling coalition.
“It’s all about how they (BN component party members) don’t want to lose power. They want to remains the kings of their small kingdoms.
“Not everyone likes Umno, MCA, or MIC but they like BN. It is this group that we must enlist. There are people out there who support BN but they do not like the component parties,” said Nazri today.
Another Umno supreme council member, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah doubted that BN would be able to move away from being affiliated with race-based parties anytime soon.
“At this point of time, it’s definitely a long-shot. Barisan Nasional was formed as a coalition of many partners, and the majority of the partners are race-based. It’s quite difficult for race-based parties to abandon the original objective for (their) parties. It is primordial of people wanting to belong to a certain group,” said Saifuddin.
Saifuddin said that although BN could not become a single, multicultural party, there was a strong possibility that it could evolve to practise a “two-tier party system.”
“I see BN becoming a two-tier party system, made up of original affiliate members from component parties as well as direct members. Whether or not BN can become a single party, which represents all races is difficult... only time will tell. (But) BN needs to be more accommodating,” Saifuddin told The Malaysian Insider.
The deputy higher education minister stressed that there was an “urgent” need for direct membership to allow more options for people to join the federal coalition.
“There are some people, due to circumstances, [who have] left their own parties within BN, but still want to remain supportive and loyal towards BN.
“There are also some who want to become an affiliate of BN, but because BN practises a veto system so they cannot become members of BN. I have also met a significant number of young people who, as a result of inter-racial marriages, cannot claim what [party] they belong to. They do not belong to Umno, MCA or even MIC, but they want to join BN,” added Saifuddin.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin reiterated his Umno colleagues’ viewpoints, saying that the safest bet for BN was to start with the idea of direct membership first.
“At the present time, majority of members within BN component parties are still attracted to their own parties. I do not think that a single party can replace Umno, MCA or any component party at the moment.
“We should start with the idea of direct membership first, and see where it goes from there,” said Khairy.
Khairy told The Malaysian Insider that he was in full support of direct membership as a method to “gauge” the response in the public’s desire towards joining BN.
“I support direct membership, as a means to gauge the interest of people, on whether there would be more people joining BN if it was open to direct membership,” said Khairy.
Recent results of a Merdeka Center survey showed 45 per cent of Malays were dissatisfied with Umno while only 44 per cent were satisfied.
Umno performed even worse with the Chinese community, with only 12 per cent saying they were satisfied while 55 per cent were dissatisfied. A total of 34 per cent had evaded response, suggesting the possibility that a larger number than the 55 per cent could be dissatisfied with Umno.
The poll results, which involved a sample size of more than 1,000 registered voters in the peninsula, contrasted significantly with Najib’s approval rating of 72 per cent in a separate poll conducted in May.
But Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian remained optimistic of BN’s shift towards becoming a multicultural party.
“The possibility is there on a long-term basis, but this depends on whether BN can become mature enough to do so. BN’s success in gaining support depends on how well it handles ethnic-relations issues,” said Ibrahim.
Ibrahim claimed that the problem within BN right now was the mindset of component parties, which have not evolved with the attitude of today’s electorate.
“For instance, Umno is a party that places a lot of importance on tradition... but the electorates today, they have moved on. Umno and BN need to look at how they are addressing issues. Najib was saying today that no one should challenge the ‘social contract’.
“You probably need to take a look at how one articulates the ‘social contract’ in today’s context,” Ibrahim told The Malaysian Insider.- The Malaysia Today