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James Chin (2018) "From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese" "Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese in GE14'in Welsh, B (ed) The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Former Dominant Party New and Expanded Post GE-14 Edition (Petailing Jaya: SIRD ) p. 255-304

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171
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
Chapter 3
From Ketuanan Melayu to
Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and
the Malaysian Chinese
James Chin
e United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), outside of the
communist system, is probably one of the most successful political
parties in the world. It has been in power, eectively, since 1955, a period
of six decades. Its stranglehold over the Malaysian political system is
such that its leader and deputy leader automatically becomes Malaysias
prime minister (PM) and deputy prime minister (DPM).
In this essay, I will sketch UMNO’s relationship with the Malaysian
Chinese community, politically the second most important ethnic group
in Malaysian politics.1 e main argument presented here is that while
UMNO was widely accepted by the Chinese community up to the early
1 In this essay, the Malaysian Chinese community refers to the Peninsular-based
Chinese community. While the Chinese community in Sabah and Sarawak views
on UMNO are largely similar in recent years, in the early years of independence
up to the late 1980s, their view of UMNO was slightly dierent because UMNO
did not have any presence in East Malaysia. UMNO Sabah was established in
the early 1990s while UMNO does not have any branches in Sarawak.
171
James Chin (2018) "From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam:
UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese" "Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese
in GE14'in Welsh, B (ed) The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Former Dominant Party
New and Expanded Post GE-14 Edition (Petailing Jaya: SIRD ) p. 255-304
172 e End of UMNO?
1970s, the introduction and implementation of the New Economic
Policy (NEP), the parties’ increasingly hegemonic approach and the rise
of political Islam in UMNO in the 1980s caused the party to pull back
from its Chinese partners in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, and
over time, from the Chinese community in general. e Chinese-based
parties in the BN, seeing their political power eroded by UMNO, began
to shi to non-political work. By the 2000s, UMNO’s approach towards
the Chinese community became mired in contradictions that cannot be
reconciled politically.
On the one hand, UMNO wanted strong Chinese representation via
the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Parti Gerakan Rakyat
Malaysia (Gerakan), to show the world that it was leading a multi-
racial coalition. UMNO ensured that the MCA and Gerakan were given
cabinet positions regardless of their performance in elections. On the
other hand, policies pursued by UMNO such as the educational, political
and economic marginalisation of the non-Malays and the increasing
Islamisation of the civil service, judiciary and public life, caused the
Chinese and non-Malays to run to the opposition parties, causing the
electoral support for the MCA and Gerakan to collapse, thus losing both
parties their political legitimacy as the Chinese representatives in the BN
coalition government.
e rise of political Islam in Malaysia has added a complication to
the political equation. As political Islam takes a hold of the Malaysian
political psyche, UMNO is moving even further into a conservative
mode. UMNO’s need to ght Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) over who is
the champion of Islam in Malaysia has le it with little room to negotiate
with the Chinese and non-Muslims.
By the end of the 2000s, coinciding with UMNO’s increasing move
to the right, UMNOs political relationship with the Chinese community
began to breakdown irrevocably. e Chinese community now sees
UMNO as largely a racist party with Islamic overtones. UMNO’s
constant use of the term ‘pendatang’ (immigrant) reinforced the views of
the Chinese community that they will never be accepted as full citizens
of Malaysia as long as UMNO is in power. It is my argument that UMNO
will not be able to change this reality, or perception, until it accepts the
notion that non-Malays have an equal place under the Malaysian sun.
173
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
In this essay, the terms ‘UMNO’ and ‘government’ are synonymous -
for most in the Chinese community, government action and policies are
seen as UMNO action and policy. Similarly, the action of any Malaysian
prime minister cannot be separated from UMNO since the president of
UMNO party is automatically the prime minister of Malaysia. us for
the Chinese community, UMNO equals the government which equals
the prime minister. Similarly, the term bumiputera (which roughly
translates to ‘sons of the soil’ and denotes indigeneity) refers to the Malay
community and vice-versa.2
The Early Years (1946-1969)
When UMNO was rst established in 1946, the party stood for Malay
nationalism and the protection of the Sultans. UMNO was formed aer
the failed Malayan Union proposal and what was paramount for the
leaders of UMNO at that time was Malay political pre-eminence and the
sovereignty of the Sultans. ey were worried about the British diluting
the political power of the Malay community and the Sultans, especially
through the British plan to allow Chinese and Indians, brought in by
the British for economic reasons, to be equal citizens. Large sections of
the Malay community saw the principle of jus soli (right of territory) in
the citizenship clause for the Malayan Union as far too generous. e
rst leader of UMNO, Datuk Onn Jaafar, was clear that while Malay
leadership was essential, he was willing to open UMNO membership
to the non-Malays. is was not accepted by other UMNO leaders who
wanted to keep the party exclusively for the Malays. Onn Jaafar was
forced out of UMNO and replaced by Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1951.
Unlike Onn Jaafar, Tunku did not harbour any plans to bring non-
Malays into UMNO; rather, with the encouragement of the British, he
supported the idea of a political alliance between the three major ethnic
groups- the Malays, Chinese, and Indians. is was the most practical
solution as it allowed each party to push for communal issues while
2 Ocially, the term bumiputera (literally ‘sons of the soil’) refers to the Malays
and other indigenous groupings in East Malaysia, but in everyday usage, most
Malaysians equate bumiputera to Malay.
174 e End of UMNO?
at the same time, the party leaders could work together via a formal
political alliance, the Alliance Party.3
In other words, it was a brilliant strategy, to bring the dierent
ethnic groups together politically through the cooperation of the elites
of UMNO, the MCA and MIC. Not only were communal issues more
easily discussed at the elite level, the largely English-educated leadership
of UMNO, the MCA and MIC shared a similar political outlook. e
main benet of having political deals on communal issues at the elite
level was the ability to rise above the petty and oen narrow sectarian
interests among the working class members.
e alliance between UMNO and the MCA performed spectacularly
in the 1952 local elections; it won 9 of 12 seats in the Kuala Lumpur
Municipal elections. In 1954, the Alliance was ocially established with
the MIC as its third pillar. In the subsequent Federal Legislative Council
elections, the Alliance took 51 of 52 seats.4 is victory was important
as it gave UMNO and the MCA legitimacy when it came to representing
their communal base. More importantly, the victory sealed the concept
of an alliance at the top, i.e. an alliance of communal leaders but not of
their communities. e Alliance parties could mobilise along communal
lines to win and take control of government by joining forces with other
communal parties. Other political parties mobilising along communal
lines may win seats but could not form a government.
Far more important, it set the tone for the future of Malaysian
politics- non-communal politics did not have a place under this
structure. Onn Jaafar, the former UMNO President who went on to
establish the non-communal Independence of Malaya Party, and later,
Parti Negara (which was restricted to Malay membership), was soundly
rejected by the electorate.
The Alliance system worked remarkably well and was widely
accepted by the Chinese community. When self-government came in
1957, the equal partnership can be seen in the appointment of MCA
3 N.J. Funston, Malay politics in Malaysia: a study of the United Malays National
Organisation and Party Islam, (Heinemann Educational Books (Asia), 1980).
4 Francis G. Carnell, ‘e Malayan ElectionsPacic Aairs, vol. 28, no. 4 (Dec
1955), pp. 315-330.
175
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
representatives to the key portfolios dealing with commerce, although
the prime ministership remained with UMNO. e MCA was given
three portfolios in 1957. ey were:
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t .JOJTUFSPG5SBEFBOE*OEVTUSZ5BO4JFX4JO
t .JOJTUFSPG-BCPVSBOE4PDJBM8FMGBSF0NBS0OH:PLF-JO
is balance was something that the Chinese accepted; the Malays
could control government as long as the Chinese controlled trade and
commerce, the lifeline of their community. is system was stable under
three conditions; rst, non-communal parties were not able to win, or
win in large enough numbers to threaten the Alliance. Second, there was
no strong alternative coalition of communal parties. ird, each of the
three Alliance parties (UMNO, the MCA and MIC) were able to win a
majority of their communal vote, i.e., they had to be politically legitimate
in a communal way.
The May 13
th
riots and the New Economic Policy (NEP)
In 1963, Malaya became the Federation of Malaysia, when Malaya joined
North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Singapore was problematic
from early on as the People’s Action Party (PAP), under Lee Kuan Yew,
harboured ambitions to replace the MCA in the Alliance. On paper,
the PAP was multi-racial but in reality, its base of support was among
the Chinese and Indians. Politically this was not an issue as long as
Lee kept the PAP in the connes of Singapore. Aer all, in the 1963
elections in Singapore, the Singapore branch of UMNO replicated the
Malayan formula by establishing the Singapore Alliance.5 e PAP
won the elections and the Singapore Alliance lost badly. e following
year, as payback, the PAP contested in Malaya. During the campaign,
the PAP’s target was the Chinese community and the MCA. e PAP
5 Albert Lau, A Moment of Anguish: Singapore in Malaysia and the Politics of
Disengagement, (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1998).
176 e End of UMNO?
attacked UMNO directly by raising issues relating to Article 153 of the
Malaysian Constitution dealing with the ‘special position’ of the Malays.
e PAP, in other words, was trying to win in the Chinese seats, and
take political legitimacy away from the MCA. e 1964 election results
armed Malaysia’s Alliance model when it won 89 of the 104 seats.
e PAP, however, failed when only one of its candidates won, in the
urban Bangsar constituency. e other parties, Parti Negara, the United
Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), won
1, 1 and 2 seats respectively.6
e communal model was nearly shattered in the next election- the
1969 general election. is time around, the non-communal parties,
the Democratic Action Party (DAP),7 Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia
(Gerakan) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) were able to make
major gains and denied the Alliance their two-thirds majority. ey
had campaigned on the basis of equal citizenship rights (‘Malaysia for
Malaysians’). e situation was especially dire for the MCA and MIC.
Prior to the general election, the MCA held 27 seats and the MIC 3. In
the 1969 General Election, the MCA and MIC only managed to win 13
and 2 seats respectively. e MCA thus lost more than y percent of
its seats. UMNO itself saw its seats drop from 59 to 52 aer a challenge
from PAS. Far more serious, the total votes obtained by the Alliance in
the Peninsula were less than half of the valid votes cast. UMNO, the
MCA and MIC had lost their communal legitimacy.8
On the 13th May, three days aer the results were announced, ethnic
rioting took place in urban Kuala Lumpur. Several hundred people were
killed. Although there is no consensus on who started the racial riots,
there was consensus that the riots were directly connected to the election
6 K.J. Ratnam, e Malayan Parliamentary Election of 1964, (University of Malaya
Press, 1967).
7 e DAP is the successor party to the Malayan branch of the Singaporean PAP.
Aer Singapore was expelled in 1965, its members in Malaya established the
DAP.
8 K. J. Ratnam and R. S. Milne, ‘e 1969 Parliamentary Election in West Malaysia’,
Pacic Aairs, 43:2 Summer, 1970, pp. 203-226. I am referring to the results in
Malaya.
177
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
results.9 Within days, the whole country was placed under emergency
rule and Parliament was suspended. A new executive body, the National
Operations Council (NOC), was established to rule the country.
is was the moment when Chinese political power was relegated.
e membership of the NOC reected the new power equation. e
members were:
Chairman of the NOC: Tun Abdul Razak Hussein- UMNO
UMNO/Minister of Home Aairs — Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman
President of the MCA — Tun Tan Siew Sin
President of the MIC — Tun V. T. Sambanthan
UMNO/Minister of Information & Broadcasting —Hamzah bin
Dato Abu Samah
Chief of the Armed Forces Sta — Tunku Osman Jiwa
Inspector-General of Police — Tan Sri (later Tun) Mohamed Salleh
Ismael
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Aairs — Tan Sri (later
Tun) Muhammad Ghazali bin Shae
ere was only one Chinese and one Indian representative on the NOC.
e others were Malay.
e ocial NOC report into the riots placed the major portion of
the blame on the unequal ownership and distribution in the economy.10
In the main, the NOC blamed the riots on the Malay’s unhappiness
over their share of the economy vis-a-vis the share held by the Chinese.
It argued that this disparity fed into the insecurities of the Malay
community and stoked fears in the community that they were being
overwhelmed by Chinese economic power. While it was true that the
Chinese share of the economy was large compared to what was held by
9 For opposing views on who started the riots, see John Slimming, e Death of
a Democracy, John Murray Publishers Ltd., 1969; Tunku Abdul Rahman, 13
May – Before and Aer, Utusan Melayu Press Ltd., 1969; Kua Kia Soong, May
13: Declassied Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969. Suaram, 2007.
10 e ocial view can be found in e May 13 Tragedy: A Report, National
Operations Council (NOC), 1969.
178 e End of UMNO?
the Malay community, the reality was that the bulk of the economy was
then held by foreign interests, in particular, British interests due to the
colonial legacy.11
The findings of the NOC led to the introduction of the New
Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was the plan for massive state
intervention, via quotas, special licences and government-linked
companies (GLC), to boost the Malay share of the economy. e ocial
aim of the NEP was two-pronged: ‘poverty eradication regardless of race
and ‘restructuring society to eliminate the identication of race with
economic function.12 A minimum thirty percent target of bumiputera
participation was set for all commercial activity. What was unusual
about this armative action program was that the quota component
was based solely on racial criteria. Even more unusual was the fact that
the armative action policy was for the majority ethnic group, not the
minority. All Malays and other bumiputera were eligible for the ‘bumi
quota, regardless of personal circumstances. An urban millionaire Malay
businessman could access the bumiputera-only scholarship on the same
basis as a Malay farmer living in a rural area. e scale of the programme
was social engineering on a country-wide scale, ensuing that the entire
fabric of Malaysian life was touched by the NEP. The civil service
and private sector took note of the NEP and soon it became openly
acceptable to racially discriminate on any activity outside the remit of
the original NEP plans; anything set aside for the Malay and bumiputera
community was simply justiable on the basis of the NEP and ‘Malay
special rights’. For example, developers began oering a discount for new
houses to bumiputera purchasers. ings like this were never envisaged
in the original NEP plan.
When the NOC restored Parliament in 1971 this was done under
conditions that severely restricted the non-Malay community. Issues
deemed ‘sensitive, including the position of the Malay language (Article
11 J. J. Puthucheary, Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy, (Singapore:
Eastern Universities Press, 1960).
12 For a semi-ocial view of the NEP, see Just Faaland, J.R. Parkinson and Rais
Saniman Growth and ethnic inequality: Malaysia’s new economic policy, (Kuala
Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, , 1990).
179
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
152), Islam (Article 3) the special position of the Malays and bumiputera
(Article 153), citizenship for non-Malays at the time of independence
and the Sultans (Article 71), were banned from public discussion under
the Sedition Act. Equally incredible was the fact that the amendment
included Parliament itself. In other words, even these issues could not
be discussed by Parliament- there was no parliamentary privilege on
issues deemed ‘sensitive. In essence, this meant key issues relating to
ethnic relations and the overt government discrimination towards the
non-Malays were now out of bounds, even in Parliament.
e political fallout came fairly quickly. Within a few years aer
the NEP was implemented, non-Malays found it more dicult to enter
public universities regardless of their grades. In the economy, many
Chinese businesses found their plans to expand were blocked if they did
not have a Malay partner or Malay shareholders. Chinese businesses, and
the wider Chinese community, saw the unmistakable sign that Chinese
inuence in economic policy disappeared when the MCAs Tan Siew Sin
saw his position as Finance Minister taken over by an UMNO politician
in 1974. Tan Siew Sin’s request that a second deputy prime minister’s
post be created for the MCA was also rejected by Razak.13 It was crystal
clear that the era of the laissez-faire market was over; the economy was
now subject to government intervention in the name of ‘Malay special
rights.14 An ocial quota of thirty percent bumiputera shareholding was
imposed on all companies wishing to list on the Kuala Lumpur Stock
Exchange (KLSE). Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the new Finance Minister,
made clear that his priority was the establishment of the Bumiputera
Commerce and Industrial Community (BCIC). Although he did not
go aer existing non-Malay businesses, he did push for them to include
Malays into their organisations. e Malaysia Industrial Co-ordination
Act (1975) forced the large non-Malay concerns to restructure their
organisational structure to include more ethnic Malays at all levels. In
13 Cheah Boon Kheng, Malaysia: e Making of a Nation, (Institute of Southeast
Asian Studies, 2002), pp. 147–148.
14 is is actually a misnomer as the Federal Constitution actually used the term
‘special position’ to describe the privileged position of the Malays and other
bumiputera.
180 e End of UMNO?
some Chinese companies, this meant creating totally new positions to
meet the government regulations. Foreign investors were also required to
have bumiputera shareholdings if their investment fell under the Foreign
Investment Committee (FIC).15
e NEP’s omnipresence in the economy included ‘Class F’ projects,
where only bumiputera contractors and businesses were allowed. Other
open’ government tenders were in name only, as it was understood
that successful tenders would be those with substantial bumiputera
shareholdings. Approved Permits (AP), or licenses to import cars and
other items, were only issued to bumiputera businessmen. Government-
linked companies (GLCs) were told to follow the government policies
on bumiputera requirements for their business and tenders. A ministry
devoted to entrepreneur development was established to train
bumiputera entrepreneurs, establish franchise schemes, fund start-up
loans and rental subsidies, etc.16
It was during this era that the concept of ‘Ali-Baba’ businesses
became common-place.17 e ‘Ali’ was the inuential Malay, usually
with UMNO connections, who was the paper owner of the business. e
‘Baba’ was the silent non-Malay, usually Chinese, partner who would
actually run the business. Ali would bring in government contracts and
get the necessary permits, the Chinese would run the business and pay a
‘rent’ to Ali for using his name and connections. is was the preferred
method for large scale government contracts and it was upon this basis
that the rentier economy began to take shape. For UMNO, this was a
‘win-win’ situation. UMNO could award government contracts to Malay
businessmen and thus be seen to be implementing the NEP aggressively,
while for the selected Chinese businessmen, they could access lucrative
government contracts. e truth was the big Chinese businessmen liked
15 T. Torii, ‘The New Economic Policy and the United Malays National
Organization - With Special Reference to the Restructuring of Malaysian Society,
e Developing Economies, vol. 35(1997), pp. 209–239.
16 James Chin, ‘e Malaysian Chinese Dilemma: e Never Ending Policy (NEP)’,
Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, vol. 3(2009), pp. 167-182.
17 R. S. Milne, ‘e Politics of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy’, Pacic Aairs, vol.
49, no.2 (Summer, 1976), pp. 235-262.
181
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
the ‘Ali-Baba’ method as they no longer had to be competitive since
contracts were awarded based on political connections and racial criteria,
rather than competitiveness and meritocracy. e ‘rent’ payable to the
Ali was simply solved by over-pricing the contract.
While big Chinese businessmen were quite happy with the NEP-
type tenders as it allowed for non-competitive bids, for the ordinary
Chinese community, it was widely seen as a blatant form of racism
which took business opportunities away from small Chinese rms. e
overwhelming majority of Chinese businesses in Malaysia are small and
medium enterprises (SMEs) and they were the hardest hit by the pro-
bumiputera policies.
e bulk of the Chinese population initially did not oppose the NEP
because there was some sympathy towards the government’s aim to bring
more bumiputera into the commercial arena. In 1970, it was obvious
that the Chinese (and Indians) were over represented in the commercial
and professional arenas. By the start of the1980s, however, when it
became obvious that NEP was over-extended and that businessmen
with connections to UMNO were becoming the main beneciary of the
NEP-based plans for bumiputera participation in the economy, the mood
towards the NEP changed within the Chinese community for the worse.
e area where the NEP hit the Chinese community hardest was
probably in their access to higher education, and this was the area where
the Chinese polity began to sour towards the NEP. e NEP, using an
ethnic quota system, signicantly reduced the number of Chinese and
Indian students in all public universities. In particular, ‘critical courses’
such as engineering, dentistry and medicine, saw dramatic declines
when the quota system was imposed. By 1977, the number of non-Malay
admissions to public universities had fallen to 25 percent, from more
than 60 percent prior to 1972.18
e matter was made worse when the government rejected the
application to establish Merdeka University in 1978, an initiative from
the Chinese education movement to set up a private university with
18 Gordon P. Means, Malaysian politics: the second generation, (Singapore: Oxford
University Press, 1991), p. 60.
182 e End of UMNO?
Mandarin as the medium of instruction. The backers of Merdeka
University then sued the government but lost the case in 1982 when
the Federal Court ruled that the medium of instruction must be in
the national language of Malay. is was a highly signicant event
in the Chinese community as the Merdeka University proposal had
overwhelming support from the community including from all the
Chinese political parties. The judgment was not a surprise given
that the government had steadfastly refused to recognise the Unied
Examination Certicate (UEC) high school qualication, issued by
independent Chinese schools. e Chinese education movement in
Malaysia, Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ), has politically fought the government
for recognition of this certicate since independence. ey want the
government to recognise the UEC and the right of the community
to use Mandarin in private institutions. e DJZ has wide support in
the Chinese community and over the years, has created a strong siege
mentality among its supporters who believe that that UMNO is anti-
Chinese for not allowing the Chinese community to promote and learn
in its own language.19
e inability of the MCA and Gerakan (and the MIC) to even get
UMNO to slow down or moderate the implementation of the NEP
could only be understood by the Chinese community as a sign that real
power in the BN was essentially held by UMNO and that non-Malay BN
parties were there to serve as window-dressing. For UMNO, the issue
was not about language but about nation building. Many UMNO and
Malay intellectuals believed that a ‘Malaysian’ nation and nationalism
could not be forged without a common language. ey saw independent
Chinese (and Indian) education as a threat to nation building. For
UMNO the Malays had already compromised by allowing the existence
19 Kua Kia Soong, e Chinese schools of Malaysia: a protean saga, (United Chinese
School Committees Association of Malaysia, 1985); G.K. Brown, ‘Making ethnic
citizens: e politics and practice of education in Malaysia, International Journal
of Educational Development, vol. 27, no. 3 (2007), pp. 318-330. For a background
of how Chinese education has evolved in Malaysia, see Lee Ting Hui, Chinese
Schools in Peninsular Malaysia: e Struggle for Survival, (Singapore: Institute of
Southeast Asian Studies, 2011).
183
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
of government-funded Chinese and Indian schools at the primary level,
and the teaching of Mandarin and Tamil in secondary school as a single
language subject.
By the end of the 1970s, aer nearly a decade of the NEP, the Chinese
community knew that they were being systematically marginalised in
politics, in the economy and in education. e era of Ketuanan Melayu
(Malay Supremacy) had arrived. ey could see that the Chinese-based
BN parties were becoming irrelevant as UMNO was becoming stronger.
ey began to feel that there were now, in practice, two classes of
Malaysian citizens- the bumiputera and non-bumiputera.
The Mahathir Era (1981-2003)
Many of the key incidents relating to the Chinese community during the
Mahathir era (1981-2003) coloured how the wider Chinese community
viewed UMNO today.e height of UMNOs power occurred during
the Mahathir era. For the Chinese community at large, there was no
separation between Mahathir and UMNO. Aer all, Mahathir ruled for
22 years and he decisively shaped Malaysian politics, to the extent that
present day tensions in Malaysian politics reect his legacy even though
he has been out of power for more than a decade.
Two contradictory issues shaped the Chinese attitudes towards
UMNO in the Mahathir era. On the one hand, they were impressed
with Mahathir’s economic vision (Wawasan2020-Vision 2020), but on
the other hand, they were apprehensive towards Mahathir’s authoritarian
rule and his strong Ketuanan Melayu views.
Mahathir came into power in 1981 with the reputation of being
an ultra-Malay. His political views were well-known in the Malaysian
community as his book e Malay Dilemma, was required reading
among the political class.20 e book, banned from the moment it was
published in 1970 until he became prime minister, blamed the non-
Malays, principally the Chinese, for much of the economic disparity
between the Malays and non-Malays. e book argued for strong state
20 M. Mohamad, e Malay Dilemma, Donald Moore, Singapore, 1970.
184 e End of UMNO?
intervention to re-distribute economic opportunities away from the
Chinese to the Malay population. e book was also clear that the
Chinese represented the biggest danger to the Malay hold on political
power because of their hold over the economy. Mahathir believed
strongly that Ketuanan Melayu was UMNO’s raison d’etre and political
equality between the Malays and the Chinese would spell the end of
UMNO’s hold over Malaysian politics.21
In 1986, the Chinese community was reminded in no uncertain
terms where UMNO stood politically when Abdullah Ahmad, then an
UMNO Member of Parliament and political secretary to former prime
minister Tun Razak, said the following in Singapore:
Let us make no mistake—the political system in Malaysia is
founded on Malay dominance. at is the premise from which we
should start…. [It] was born out of a sacrosanct social contract
which preceded national independence. ere have been moves
to question, to set aside and to violate, this contract that have
threatened the stability of the system…. The May 1969 riots
arose out of the challenge to the system agreed upon, out of the
non fullment of the substance of the contract…. e NEP is the
programme, aer those riots in 1969, to full the promises of the
contract in 1957….. ere is thus no two ways about it: the NEP
must continue to sustain Malay dominance in the political system
in line with the contract of 1957. Even aer 1990, there must be
mechanisms of preservation, protection, and expansion in an
evolving system.22
Although the speech generated huge media coverage in Malaysia, no
senior UMNO minister rebutted the speech or its key message. is was
taken by the wider Chinese community as UMNO agreeing to the core
21 James Chin, ‘A Decade Later: e Lasting Shadow of Mahathir,’ in James Chin
and Joern Dosch (eds.), Malaysia Post Mahathir: a decade of change?, (Singapore:
Marshall Cavendish, 2015), pp. 16-40.
22 K. Das, Malay Dominance?: e Abdullah Rubric, (Kuala Lumpur: K. Das Ink,
1987).
185
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
of the speech, i.e. Ketuanan Melayu was part of the ‘social contract. e
most important element in the speech was the introduction of the idea
of ‘social contract’ between the Malays and non-Malays at the time of
independence. Abdullah, and many others in UMNO, suggested that a
quid pro quo agreement was reached among the Malay and non-Malay
leaders during the negotiations for independence that provided non-
Malays with citizenship in return for their recognition of Ketuanan
Melayu and the ‘special rights’ of the Malays as the indigenous people
of Malaya. Although the word ‘social contract’ was not found in all
the personal papers le by UMNO and MCA leaders who negotiated
Malaya’s independence in 1955, many UMNO leaders insisted that this
was the spirit and ‘unwritten agreement’ of the negotiations.23
The Singapore speech was followed a year later by an incident
relating to Chinese schools. On 11 October 1987, a 2,000-strong
gathering was held by the United Chinese School Committees
Association of Malaysia (better known as Dong Jiao Zong) in Kuala
Lumpur. Representatives from all of the key Chinese associations and
guilds were present, along with representatives from the MCA, Gerakan
and the opposition DAP. Lee Kim Sai, the MCA’s deputy president
stood on the same stage as Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the DAP. e
community was protesting the Ministry of Educations appointment of
some 100 senior assistants and supervisors to Chinese-medium primary
schools. All of these administrators were not Chinese-educated, giving
the impression that the government was planning to convert these
schools to Malay-medium schools or to limit the usage of Chinese in the
schools.24 e Dong Jiao Zong rally triggered a counter-rally organised
by UMNO Youth a week later in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur.is was
highly symbolic as the 13th May ethnic riots started from Kampung Baru.
At the rally, Najib Razak, the UMNO Youth Leader, was reported to have
23 Cheah Boon Kheng, Malaysia: e Making of a Nation, pp. 235-238. For a
historical argument on how Ketuanan Melayu came into being, see Geo Wade,
e Origins and Evolution of Ethnocracy in Malaysia, Asia Research Institute,
National University of Singapore (Working Paper Series No. 112), 2009.
24 Harold A. Crouch, Government and Society in Malaysia, (Cornell University
Press, 1996), pp. 107–109.
186 e End of UMNO?
said that he would ‘soak Chinese blood’ with a Malay keris (a traditional
Malay dagger).25 Although Najib later claimed he never said that,26
most of the Chinese community believed that he did utter words to a
similar eect and many Chinese stores closed down several days aer
the rally, fearing a repeat of 13th May rioting. Ten days later, Mahathir
ordered a mass crackdown known as ‘Operation Lalang’ in which more
than 100 people, mostly people opposed to the government including
key DAP leaders, were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Newspapers, including Chinese newspapers, were shut down.27
Towards the end of the 1980s, the Chinese community were hopeful
that the NEP would be modied and that the government would relax
the pro-bumiputera policies. e optimism was based on the premise
that the ocial NEP end-date was 1990. In 1988, Mahathir established
the Majlis Perundingan Ekonomi Negara (MAPEN or the National
Economic Consultative Council (NECC)) to discuss post-NEP economic
policy. MAPEN was initiated by the MCA who saw it as the only
opportunity to moderate the sharper edges of the NEP and shape the
post-NEP policy. MAPEN had an equal number of bumiputera and non-
bumiputera. e MCA, at great expense, convened an expert panel and
submitted a detailed plan to the NECC in February 1990.28 Unknown to
the MCA, or to the wider community, Mahathir had asked the Economic
Planning Unit (EPU), to draw up economic plans for 1990 and beyond.
Aer heated debates behind closed doors, MAPEN submitted its plans
to the government. When the government ocially announced the
post-NEP plan, the National Development Policy (NDP), all of the racial
25 Ibid., pp. 107-109.
26 Ibid., pp. 107-109.
27 Mahathir probably ordered the crackdown due to the inghting between Team
A and Team B in UMNO but the Chinese education protests heightened the
political tensions and gave him an extra excuse. For an account of the crisis, see
Crouch, op. cit. Chapter 6; Means, Malaysian Politics, op cit., pp. 193-213.
28 e MCA report was led by Yong Poh Kon and covers all aspects of Malaysian
public life. It was basically a plan to move government policies towards a
non-racial approach in the long run. Much of the MCA submission was later
published in e Malaysian challenges in the 1990s: strategies for growth and
development, Pelanduk Publications for Malaysian Chinese Association, 1990.
187
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
quotas from the NEP remained and it was revealed that NDP was largely
drawn up by the EPU. At this point, it was clear, again, that like with
the original NEP, UMNO was the real power in government and was
going to implement what UMNO deemed as national policy without any
consultation with its coalition partners. e BN coalition parties were
tolerated as long as key UMNO interests such as the pro-bumiputera
policy were untouched.29
Another big concern for the community during the Mahathir era was
Islamisation. Mahathir had recruited Anwar Ibrahim, a student leader,
into UMNO in 1982 and Anwar was rapidly promoted. Mahathir and
Anwar began to ‘infuse’ Islamic principles into the civil service and a
host of Islamic institutions were established; Bank Islam, International
Islamic University, Islamic Pilgrims Board (LUTH), Jabatan Kemajuan
Islam Malaysia (JAKIM or the Department of Islamic Advancement of
Malaysia), amongst others.30 All of this was done in the name of infusing
‘universal Islamic values’ into government, but in reality, UMNO was in a
political race with PAS to show who was more ‘Islamic’. PAS was, and is,
the main political opponent of UMNO and in the 1980s, it represented
a real threat to UMNO’s hold to power and Mahathir’s in particular.
Mahathir and UMNO calculated that it had to be ‘more-Islamic’ than
PAS to win over the Malay vote.31 e constant one-upmanship between
UMNO and PAS over Islam gave the strong impression amongst the
Chinese community that they really do not count in the political process
anymore. e most serious damage transpired when Mahathir suddenly
announced that Malaysia was an Islamic state on 29 September 2001
during the annual Gerakan party congress. In his usual straight-to-the-
point approach Mahathir said ‘UMNO would like to state outright that
Malaysia is an Islamic state. is opinion is based on the opinions of
many ulama in the past who have explained what is Islamic state.32 is
29 Diane K. Mauzy and R. S. Milne, Malaysian Politics Under Mahathir, (Routledge,
2002), p. 72.
30 Means, Malaysian Politics, pp. 99-104.
31 Crouch, Government and Society, pp. 64-69.
32 ‘Dr M: MCA did not object to “Islamic country” declaration,e Malaysian
Insider, October 23, 2012.
188 e End of UMNO?
came as a big shock to the Chinese community as they never expected an
incumbent prime minister to unilaterally declare Malaysia as an Islamic
state. e shock was compounded by the timing of the declaration -
during the party congress of a Chinese-based BN party. It was obvious
that the MCA, Gerakan and other component parties were not consulted.
e Ministry of Information published a booklet ‘Malaysia Adalah
Sebuah Negara Islam33 (Malaysia is an Islamic State/Nation) to support
Mahathir’s claim.
e real impact of the contest between PAS and UMNO came in
1998 when the Federal Constitution was amended. is entailed the
inclusion of new clause (1A) into Article 121 that stated: ‘e courts
referred to in Clause (1) shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any
matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts.’ Previously, Syariah
courts were the courts created by state assemblies to administer certain
Islamic laws and were deemed lower than the civil courts. Now the
Syariah Courts were deemed equal to civil courts, or as some argue,
elevated above them, with greater jurisdiction. e political fallout from
Article 121 (1A) and its impact was to be felt aer Mahathir le oce,
as developed below.
Another big moment in shaping how the Chinese community sees
UMNO occurred during the reformasi period in the late 1990s. In
August 1999, all the key Chinese associations and groups in the country
came together to form the Malaysian Chinese Organisations’ Elections
Appeals Committee (known as Suqiu). e group presented a public
memorandum calling for human rights, democracy, the removal of the
bumiputera/non-bumiputera divide and the replacement of the race-
based armative action policy with a needs-based policy. With a general
election looming in November 1999, all of the BN Chinese parties agreed
‘in principle’ to the demands. Aer the general election, Mahathir began
to attack Suqiu openly, calling it a ‘Chinese extremist’ organisation.
UMNO Youth held demonstrations in front of the Suqiu oce and other
Malay nationalist groups called on the government to arrest and shut
33 e booklet was written by Dato Wan Zahidi Wan Teh, the then Mui of Federal
Territory, and published by the Malaysian Ministry of Information in October
2001.
189
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
down Suqiu. Like UMNO, they claimed that the ultimate aim of Suqiu
was the removal of the Malay ‘special rights. Intense internal pressure
was brought upon the MCA and Gerakan to stop Suqiu. In 2001, Suqiu
was forced to back down publicly when Gerakan warned them that the
dispute may directly lead to a repeat of the 13th May riots.34
e Mahathir era saw a sharp decline in Chinese representation in
Parliament and, more seriously, in the population. In 1982, there were
38 Chinese majority constituencies out of 154 constituencies (24%). In
1990, 40 of 196 constituencies (20%) were Chinese majority. In 1980,
30% of the population were Chinese while in 2000, it had dropped to
26%.35 e decline of Chinese seats in Parliament and inability of the
MCA and Gerakan to consistently win the bulk of the Chinese seats,
and their failure to convince UMNO to moderate its approach towards
the Chinese community saw the Chinese-based BN parties shi their
political strategy. Although both parties still claim to speak on behalf of
the Chinese community in government, their failure to win Chinese seats
severely dented their political legitimacy.36 In such circumstances, they
decided, from the late 1980s, to shi to political strategies of ‘service’
and ‘fear’.
‘Service’ refers to the constituency service centres established by
MCA and Gerakan. ese centres can be found in heavily Chinese
populated areas where any residents can seek help. These centres,
manned by fulltime sta, oer a whole range of free services, from
writing application/support letters to government departments to
representing a constituent in a dispute with regulatory authorities.
Since MCA and Gerakan representatives become political appointees
to local municipal council and city halls, the party can resolve daily
34 James Chin, ‘Malaysian Chinese Politics in the 21st Century: Fear, Service and
Marginalisation, Asian Journal of Political Science, vol. 9, no. 2, (Dec 2001), pp.
78-94.
35 Lee Kam Heng, ‘Mahathir’s Administration and the Chinese’ in Bridget Welsh
(ed.), Reections: e Mahathir Years, (SAIS-John Hopkins University Press,
2004), p. 178.
36 Gerakan official’s stand was that it spoke on behalf of ‘Malaysians’ in
government, but given that the bulk of its members and its power-base of Penang
was Chinese, the polity and UMNO always saw Gerakan as a Chinese BN party.
190 e End of UMNO?
living problems relating to refuse collections, drainage issues, water and
electricity diculties, hawker licences, etc. While outsiders may see
these centres as non-political work, they do in fact give the BN Chinese
parties some political legitimacy. e biggest and best staed ‘service’
centre is called the ‘MCAs Public Complaints and Services Department’
which is located in the party’s headquarters in Jalan Ampang. Its head,
Michael Chong, is a household name in Malaysia, so much so that
that the conventional wisdom is that he can actually win a Chinese-
majority seat based on his ‘service’.37 Service also refers to the MCA
and Gerakan getting involved in the establishment of higher education
institutions to provide an alternative path for Chinese and other non-
Malay students aer the NEP blocked their entry to public universities.
e MCA expanded Tunku Abdul Rahman College (Kolej TAR) and
opened Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in 2002. Gerakan,
with less resources than the MCA, in turn established the Wawasan
Open University (WOU) in Penang in 2006. In a normal democratic
country, political parties would ordinarily be the worst sponsor of higher
education but in Malaysia, due to institutional racism, it actually gives
the MCA and Gerakan political legitimacy for ‘serving’ the non-Malay
community as described above.
‘Fear’ refers to the uncertainty and anxiety faced by the Chinese
community in relation to the future UMNO governments discriminatory
policies towards the Chinese. e aggressive Islamisation policies caused
by both UMNO and PAS’s avowed aim of setting up an Islamic state
created fear among the Chinese polity. Chinese newspapers exacerbate
the climate of fear by regularly running stories that Islamisation will
ultimately mean repression of Chinese culture and language arguing that
PAS’s Islamic state will spell the political end of the Malaysian Chinese
community since non-Muslims are seen to have no political rights in
an Islamic state. e Chinese community were especially fearful of
PAS’s pronouncements that Syariah law would apply to all (Muslims
and non-Muslims) in an Islamic state. e MCA and Gerakan utilised
these fears, arguing that although their inuence with UMNO may
37 James Chin, ‘Malaysian Chinese Politics.
191
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
be limited, their presence in government had a moderating inuence
upon the more racist leaders in UMNO. In other words, their role in
government was to ensure that the most extreme anti-Chinese policies
were stopped at the cabinet level. In totality, their political strength
was their direct links to the UMNO president who was prime minister,
and their ability to hold cabinet positions at both the state and federal
levels. e UMNO leadership, although it knew that its pro-bumiputera
policies meant that MCA and Gerakan were not able to win majority
Chinese support, always guaranteed places in the federal government
for MCA and Gerakan representatives, as long as the party had elected
MPs. While the Chinese increasingly saw UMNO as a racist, corrupt
and Islamist party towards its Chinese partners, UMNO leaders saw
themselves as a benign ‘boss’ who would never ‘abandon’ their non-
Malay partners, even if they cannot get Chinese votes. e best example
of this was in the 2013 general election when the MCA lost heavily. e
MCA had promised, prior to the general election, that they would not
take up cabinet positions if they did not get Chinese support. When
the MCA president announced that the party will keep to its promise
aer the general election, prime minister and UMNO president Najib
Tun Razak said he will keep the cabinet positions open until the MCA
changed its mind.38 A year later in 2014, under a new MCA president,
MCA representatives joined the federal cabinet.
Despite UMNOs refusal to grant concessions on the NEP and other
pro-bumiputera policies, the Chinese community on the whole was
positive towards Mahathir’s grand plan, Wawasan 2020 (Vision 2020)
announced in 1991. Many in the Chinese community saw the plan for
Malaysia to be a fully developed industrialised country as the best way
to get equality in the political system. ere is always a sizeable segment
of the Chinese community who thought that political equality can
only come about when the Malay community does not fear, a real or
perceived, threat of Chinese dominance and control over the Malaysian
economy. ey think once Malaysia becomes a high-income country,
many of the racial issues will disappear or be minimized as the Malays
38 Transport Minister’s post reserved for MCA, says Najib,e Star, May 16, 2013.
192 e End of UMNO?
will no longer fear Chinese economic dominance.39 Another important
group that saw Mahathir in a favourable light was big Chinese business
interests, especially those who beneted directly from the government
in terms of contracts and licences. is group included conglomerates
such as the YTL Group and Berjaya Group of companies. ese two
companies, among several others, enjoyed Mahathir’s patronage in
gaining many government contracts and his changes in regulations
and policies.40 Others were grateful to Mahathir because he pegged the
ringgit to the US dollar, over the objections of the Bank Negara (Central
Bank) and Anwar Ibrahim, then deputy prime minister, during the 1997-
98 Asian nancial crisis. is action saved many Malaysian Chinese
companies from bankruptcy.
e end of the Mahathir era saw the emergence of ambivalence on
the part of the Chinese community towards UMNO, mainly because of
their opinion of Mahathir. While some Chinese took pride in Mahathir’s
ability to modernise the country and a clear vision to move forward
(Vision 2020), the bulk of the Chinese (like the rest of the Malaysian
polity) were just tired of Mahathirism aer 22 years. ey saw the clear
political decline of the MCA and Gerakan in government, the rise of
political Islam with UMNO and PAS constantly trying to see who was
more Islamic and, perhaps, most importantly, no end to Ketuanan
Melayu and the NEP-type policies. e Chinese business community was
more favourable to Mahathir and UMNO as they could see that Malaysia
was growing economically. Although they resented the bumiputera
policy, they could work within the framework under the guise of the
Ali-Baba partnerships. e Chinese big business was quite happy with
Mahathir and UMNO although they knew that Mahathir could have
easily blocked their progress.
39 Many of those who hold this belief supported the role of MCA and Gerakan
in BN. e view of this group is best articulated by Ling Leong Sik, the MCA
president during the Mahathir era. See Ling Leong Sik, e Malaysian Chinese
Towards Vision2020, (Pelanduk, 1995). Another book that articled this view is
Ye Lin-Sheng, e Chinese Dilemma, Pelanduk, 2003.
40 Edmund Terence Gomez, Chinese Business in Malaysia: Accumulation,
Ascendance, Accommodation, (Curzon, 1999).
193
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
The Abdullah Badawi Era (2003-2009)
When Mahathir nally stepped down in 2003, there was collective relief
across the country. Many felt that the country had to move on aer two
decades of Mahathirism.41 Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, better known as
Pak Lah, was a popular pick as successor. Abdullah was widely seen as
‘Mr Clean’ and someone with a moderate reputation towards the non-
Malays. He acknowledged that he had Chinese blood, unlike Mahathir
who never admitted to his Indian ancestry while in oce. In the 2004
general election, the Malaysian polity rewarded the BN with one of
its biggest victories, with the BN winning more than ninety percent
of the seats in Parliament. ere were high expectations in the non-
Malay community that Pak Lah would wind back some of Mahathir
era excesses. Pak Lah, to his credit, moved to loosen the government’s
control on the media, and allowed the mainstream media more space in
reporting.
e Chinese community had high expectations that Pak Lah would
reform the economy by giving the Chinese community more freedom
and loosen ethnic quotas. Politically the Chinese knew that wholesale
changes were not possible but they were hoping that some incremental
changes could be implemented by the Abdullah administration.
Abdullah’s 2004 general election tagline ‘work with me’ was a direct
appeal to all Malaysians, and the Chinese community took this to mean
that Abdullah was serious about repairing the strained Malay-Chinese
ties which had developed during the Mahathir era.
Abdullah, however, squandered all of his political capital from the
2004 General Election when he did not implement the economic reforms
fast enough. In the political arena, the Chinese community’s positive
feeling towards both Pak Lah and UMNO evaporated in 2005 and 2006
when Hishamuddin Hussein Onn, son of the third prime minister
and then Minister of Education, brandished a keris, during the annual
41 is section is largely taken from James Chin ‘It Had to Happen: e Chinese
Backlash in the 2008 General Elections,’ in Bridget Welsh and James Chin (eds.),
Awakening: e Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia, (Petaling Jaya: Strategic
Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD), 2013), pp. 162-178.
194 e End of UMNO?
UMNO General Assembly. e Chinese (and Indian) communities saw
this as a symbol of UMNO threatening the non-Malays. Hishamuddin
tried to backtrack by claiming that the keris is a symbol of Malay
sovereignty, a ‘heritage symbol’, and his action at the UMNO meeting
was simply to remind the UMNO members of Malay sovereignty. Any
doubts over his explanation disappeared when Hishamuddin showed the
keris again in the UMNO assembly the following year. It did not matter
if Hishamuddin was sincere, what came across to the Chinese (and non-
Malay) community was the clear message that the Malays were dominant
and that the non-Malays must not challenge UMNO and the Malays for
political power.42
UMNO’s live telecast of its annual General Assembly that year
gave the Malaysian public a rare look into hated lled speeches given
at its annual assemblies. For the uninitiated, it came as a shock. Many
speakers attacked the Chinese community for questioning Malay ‘special
rights’ and many openly called the Malaysian Chinese and Indians as
pendatang’ or recent immigrants.43 More extreme hate speech called on
the government to expand the pro-bumiputera policies and exclude the
Chinese from government programmes since they did not vote for the
BN. Many in the Chinese community were shaken at the level of hatred
against them in these speeches and it sealed UMNO’s reputation among
the public as a racist party that would never accept the non-Malays and
non-Muslims as equal citizens.
e problem was compounded by the issue of Islamic conversions
and other cases involving religious freedom inherited from the
Mahathir era. The controversy and the reluctance of the Abdullah
administration to resolve them sealed UMNO/BN’s fate in the 2008
General Election. Towards of the end of the Mahathir era, Islam became
highly bureaucratised and rigid. Although constitutionally Islam
was under the purview of the individual Sultans in their respective
42 ‘Keris-wielding gesture brought up again, e Sun Daily, April 18, 2007.
43 e Chinese and Indian communities see the word ‘pendatang’ as extremely
insulting given that the overwhelmingly majority of them were born and raised
in Malaysia. Many in fact, have no connections, with their ancestral homeland of
China and India. Many of these hate speeches can be easily accessed via Youtube.
195
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
states, Mahathir established a federal department, under the Prime
Minister’s Department, to deal with Islamic aairs. Jabatan Kemajuan
Islam Malaysia (JAKIM or the Department of Islamic Advancement
of Malaysia), to co-ordinate all Islamic–related matters in government.
State-level equivalents were also established while some states already
had their own state Islamic departments. Given that Islam affects
every facet of Malaysian life, JAKIM became increasingly powerful
and its role expanded. JAKIM essentially became a parallel Islamic
bureaucracy running inside the normal bureaucracy. It brought in
regulations that not only controlled the private behaviour of Muslims,
but more importantly, it became the main champion in government for
the promotion of a conservative brand of Sunni Islam which excluded
non-Muslims. In JAKIM’s worldview, non-Muslims must bend to Islamic
laws and regulations as they were living in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Of
particular concern to JAKIM and its supporters was the need to convert
non-Muslims into Islam and to stop apostasy.44 In JAKIMs worldview,
the push to convert non-Muslim was not seen as an aggressive measure
because they believe that all humans are born Muslims. us JAKIM,
and other radical Islamic groups, argue that no conversion was taking
place, it is rather an issue of ‘reverting’ back to Islam.45 JAKIMs basic
belief was that once a person became a Muslim, there was no avenue to
leave the religion. It strictly enforces the law which renders marriage
between a Muslim and non-Muslim as illegal. In Malaysia, the non-
Muslim spouse must convert by law.46
Most Malaysian Chinese have no problem with Malays being
constitutionally dened as Muslim, or issues with converting to Islam
44 See Policing Belief: Special Report on Malaysia, Freedom House, n.d., available
at: https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/les/PolicingBelief_Malaysia.pdf. See
also Kikue Hamayotsu, ‘Once a Muslim, always a Muslim: the politics of state
enforcement of Syariah in contemporary Malaysia, South East Asia Research, vol.
20, no. 3 (2013), pp. 399–421.
45 For example, read ‘Golongan Murtad Boleh kembali kepada Islam, Federal
Territory’s Mui, accessed June 25 2016, http://www.muiwp.gov.my/v1/index.
php?option=com_content&id=174&lang=en
46 ‘Marriage between Muslim and non-Muslim illegal, says Jakim, Malay Mail
Online, September 27, 2013.
196 e End of UMNO?
upon marriage. However, the bureaucratisation of Islam became a
political issue when the laws and regulations were seen as biased towards
Muslims. During the Abdullah era, another issue that came to a head
(and is still an issue today) concerns custody over children when one
spouse uses Islamic law to gain custody. ere were many cases where
the husband (or wife) converts to Islam secretly in the early stages or
in the midst of the divorce. is is usually followed immediately by
conversion of the children, usually minors. is is oen done covertly
at state-level Islamic oces. Once this is done, the new convert will
simply refuse to acknowledge the divorce proceedings in the civil
courts, as he or she claims to be subject to the parallel Syariah Court.
Under present law, the non-Muslim spouse cannot legally appear before
the Syariah Court, thus creating a legal lacuna where there is no legal
remedy. e Syariah Court, in almost all cases, awards the custody of the
newly-converted children to the Muslim parent. e most famous case
is that of Shamala Sathiyaseelan, a Hindu mother whose two children
were converted into Islam by her convert husband Dr. Muhammad
Ridzwan Mogarajah (Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah) without her knowledge
or consent. A few months aer converting to Islam, he was awarded
custody of the two converted children by the Syariah Court without any
representation by Shamala in 2003. Knowing that she cannot appear or
win in a Syariah court, she had since ed Malaysia with the children.47
On top of this, the police have shown bias towards the Syariah court.
In 2009, new convert Muhamad Ridhuan Abdullah (K Patmanathan)
abducted three of his children (11 months, 11 years old, 12 years old)
and converted them to Islam. When his estranged wife, M. Indira
Gandhi, a Hindu, tried to get back the children the police refused
to help, citing a Syariah Court order awarding him custody of the
children.48 In 2010, the Ipoh High Court (civil court) granted Indira full
custody of all three children but the police refused to enforce the court
order. In 2016, the highest court in Malaysia, the Federal Court, ordered
the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to arrest Muhamad Ridhuan
47 Rizal bin Chek Hashim,’The Shamala Sathiyaseelan v. Dr Jeyaganesh C
Mograrajah (Muhammad Ridzuan) custody case,Aliran Monthly, 2004. p. 7.
48 ‘MCA: What else does IGP want?,e Malaysian Times, June 10, 2014.
197
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
Abdullah for contempt of court.49 e police merely replied that they
could not locate him.50 e public perception is that all government
institutions, including the police, are biased towards anything to do with
Islam and Muslims at the expense of non-Muslims.
A lot of controversy was also generated by what Malaysians called
‘body-snatching’.51 is occurs when Islamic authorities would suddenly
appear at the mortuary or the funeral home to take an individual body
away for an Islamic burial, claiming that the deceased was a convert to
Islam. Oen this is the rst instance where family members nd out the
deceased had converted secretly. In many such cases, the deceased never
actually practiced Islam and had oen converted for a practical reason
(i.e. to get married to a Muslim or to t into an organisation). Others
le Islam when their marriage broke down and reverted to their original
faith. In a notorious case in2005, Maniam Moorthy (better known as
Everest Moorthy), an ethnic Indian who was the rst Malaysian to scale
Mount Everest, was alleged to have secretly converted to Islam while
serving in the armed forces and took the name of Mohammad Abdullah.
When he died, the Islamic authorities insisted on an Islamic burial
despite declarations from his wife, and supported by other evidence, that
he continued to take part in Hindu festivals, ate pork and drank alcohol.
e family then went to the High Court but lost their case when the
High Court ruled that the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council
had obtained a ruling from the Syariah High Court that Moorthy was
a Muslim and that was that. e anger was compounded when death
benets were given to Moorthy’s brother, also a Muslim convert, rather
than his family because they were not Muslim and death benets cannot
be awarded to non-Muslims.52
e issue was so politically toxic for the non-Malay community that
49 ‘Federal Court orders IGP to arrest Indira’s ex-husband, e Star, April 30, 2016.
50 ‘Indira vents frustration over cops’ failure to locate Ridhuan, Malaysiakini, May
2, 2016.
51 ‘Body-snatching practice divides Malaysian society’, aindian News, June 25,
2009.
52 ‘Rama Ramanathan, M Moorthy case: Everest, a deep crack in Malaysia’s soul,
e Ant Daily, Oct 10, 2015.
198 e End of UMNO?
all nine non-Muslim federal ministers submitted a joint memorandum to
Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in January 2006. ey asked the federal
government (of which they were ministers) to review the parallel legal
system, especially Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution where
civil courts have no jurisdiction over matters relating to Islam or under
the purview of the Syariah Court, and issues relating to conversions of
minors to Islam. UMNO applied heavy political pressure and the nine
ministers withdrew their memorandum in public humiliation. The
Chinese community saw this unmistakably as a sign that non-Malay
parties in the BN cannot protect them from the process of Islamisation
and rise of political Islam despite the fact that all nine ministers were
from BN component parties. e impression was on matters related to
Islam, UMNO will not back down, even though non-Malay communities
exceed one-third of the population. Combined with the keris issue, the
Chinese community had, more or less, given up on Abdullah’s ability to
bring real change to the UMNO government.
In the subsequent 2008 General Election, the BN won narrowly.
is was the rst time since 1969 that the ruling coalition had lost its
all-important two-thirds majority. Far more importantly, the Chinese
community abandoned the Chinese-based BN parties when just four
years earlier in 2004, it had given signicant support to the MCA and
Gerakan. The scale of the defeat was best symbolised by the near-
total wipe-out of Gerakan in Penang, the party’s stronghold, with
Penang falling to the DAP. e MCA lost more than half of its seats
in Parliament compared to2004, from 31 to 15 seats, while Gerakan
saw its seats in Parliament drop from 10 to just 2. e biggest winner
was the DAP as it swept more than seventy percent of Chinese-
majority constituencies in the country. e DAP even won most of the
Chinese constituencies in East Malaysia. e DAP became the Chinese
community’s sole political voice. In essence, the Chinese community
on both sides of the South China Sea gave their verdict on the UMNO
administration and the verdict was damning; the Chinese polity was
disappointed with Abdullahs inability to change the way UMNO treated
the Chinese; they had hoped that Abdullah was able to reverse some of
the blatant discrimination enacted during the Mahathir years given his
strong mandate in 2004. When nothing changed, the Chinese simply
199
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
moved to the DAP. e vote against Abdullah could thus be seen as a
delayed verdict of the Chinese community against the Mahathir era.53
The Najib Era (2009-current)
In less than a year aer BN’s poor showing, Najib Tun Razak, son of the
second prime minster, replaced Abdullah as prime minister and UMNO
president. Najib started o as a reformer and he clearly understood that
he needed to reform the bumiputera policy. He probably did it for the
right reasons. First he knew Malaysia would never escape the ‘middle
income trap’ if real economic reforms did not take place. Second,
removing the ethnic discriminatory parts of the NEP was key to winning
back some non-Malay support. Najib began to speak of ‘1Malaysia, and
it sounded politically to the Chinese as a move towards political equality,
inclusiveness, and an end to institutional racism. Najib claimed he
wanted a more inclusive government. In quick succession, he announced
a liberalization of NEP rules by announcing that the long-standing 30 per
cent compulsory bumiputera shareholding rule would be reduced to 12.5
per cent for companies listed on the stock exchange, the abolition of the
Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) which had compulsory shareholding
requirements for bumiputera, and a new category of government
scholarships would be given out purely on merit and not race.54
But Najib miscalculated the Malay ground. Almost immediately
aer assuming power, he established an expert group to draw up a new
economic plan to allow Malaysia to move away from the middle-income
trap. e group published its dra report, the New Economic Model
(NEM), to great fanfare in 2010.55 It argued that the NEP-type policies
were no longer relevant and proposed a needs-based armative action
policy program for those living in the bottom 40% of the economy.
53 James Chin,2013, pp. 162-178.
54 James Chin, ‘Malaysia: e Rise of Najib and 1Malaysia, in D. Singh (ed.), South
East Asian Aairs 2010, Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies, 2011,
pp. 162-177.
55 ‘PM: New Economic Model to turn Malaysia into high income nation, e Star,
March 30, 2010.
200 e End of UMNO?
ere was such a strong backlash from UMNO and other right-wing
Malay groups that when the final NEM was adopted by the Najib
administration, ethnic quotas and other bumiputera privileges were
retained. A member of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC),
Dr Zainal Aznam Mohd Yusof, told a public forum that the NEM was
‘hijacked’ by right-wing Malay groups who wanted to retain the NEP
policies in the name of Malay ‘special rights’.56 Two other prominent
members of the NEAC were quoted in a secret US State Department
cable as describing the NEM as ‘public relations show’ since Najib had
no political will or capital to push through real reforms.57 e backlash
against the NEM and Najib’s perceived concessions to the Chinese
business community caused Najib to backtrack and intervene even
more directly in the economy to promote Malay interests. He created
a new agency under the Prime Minister’s Department, Unit Peneraju
Agenda Bumiputera (TERAJU or Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit).
TERAJU not only bought shareholdings in leading companies but
used government-linked companies (GLCs) to give contracts to Malay
businessmen. Many of these bumiputera-only contracts were in direct
competition with Chinese businesses, causing them to lose out.58
Najib courted the Chinese and Indian communities directly,
bypassing the MCA, Gerakan and MIC. For example, he became the
rst sitting prime minister to attend a dinner to commemorate the
90th anniversary of the Chong Hwa Chinese Independent High School.
He was also the rst incumbent prime minister to attend the Chinese
New Year open house hosted by Chinese education group Dong Zhong
(United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia). e
government had always seen the Chinese education movement as anti-
UMNO and anti-Malay for its push for government recognition of high
56 ‘Perkasa hijacked NEM, says NEAC man, Malaysiakini, Feb 8, 2011; A WikiLeaks
cable.
57 ‘Najib’s Economic Advisers Feared Nem Just For Show,’ e Malaysian Insider,
June 6, 2011.
58Teraju creates RM46.5bil worth of business’, e Star, November 26, 2014;
‘Teraju looking to extend RM1.65b in loans to Bumi rms, Malay Mail Online,
March 17, 2015; ‘Ahead of UMNO meet, Putrajaya touts success in bolstering
Malay economy’, Malay Mail Online, November 25, 2014.
201
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
school qualications issued by the Dong Jiao Zong.59
Despite Najibs best intentions, many in UMNO were not in
agreement with Najibs outreach to non-Malays. ey were especially
unhappy with Najib’s moves to try to win back Chinese support. Many
in UMNO were of the opinion that there was no need to gather support
of such a community since the Chinese will never be able to decide the
outcome of elections. is view is easy to understand. Aer years of
gerrymandering by UMNO, Chinese-majority constituencies number
no more than 40 of 222 constituencies. Winning all 40 Chinese seats
will still not be enough to attain government. For this group, UMNO
should instead move to the right and get support from PAS to form a
clear Malay majority in Parliament and therefore be able to ignore the
Chinese completely.
Najib’s move to the non-Malays directly caused the rise of right-
wing Malay groups. ese groups openly opined that the Chinese must
be content with being second-class citizens as long as they refused to
assimilate. e two most prominent right-wing groups that were active
during Najib’s rst term were Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia
(Malaysian Indigenous Power Organisation or Perkasa) and Ikatan
Muslimin Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Network or ISMA). Many
members of Perkasa and ISMA are also members of UMNO and PAS,
as well as former civil servants. ey both accuse the Chinese of trying
to get rid of Malay ‘special rights’ and working with foreign powers to
‘weaken Islam. e inuence of these right-wing became stronger aer
the 2013 General Election, when despite Najib’s eorts in trying to reach
out, the Chinese voted overwhelmingly for the opposition, especially the
DAP. e MCA and Gerakan were further decimated at the 2013 polls.
is led Najib to call the Chinese vote ‘the Chinese Tsunami’ and for the
leading Malay-newspaper to print the infamous headline ‘Apa lagi Cina
mau?’ (What more do the Chinese want?).60
e rise of these right-wing organisations coincided with increasing
eorts on the part of the bureaucracy to impose Islamisation on the
59 ‘Najib rst PM to attend Dong Zhong CNY do, New Straits Times, February 17,
2013.
60 Apa Lagi Cina Mau? (Front page)’ Utusan Malaysia, May 7, 2013.
202 e End of UMNO?
non-Muslim population. ree episodes stand out during Najib’s tenure
to date that have le a deep impression on the Chinese community. ey
are the ‘Allah’ controversy, issues surrounding shoplot churches and
puasa (fasting during Ramadan).
On 14 October, 2013, the Malaysian Appeals Court ruled that non-
Muslims in Malaysia cannot use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God in their
own religious texts, overturning a 2009 lower court ruling. e Court
sided with the government’s view that ‘Allah’ must be exclusive to Islam
and it will cause public disorder and confusion among the Malaysian
Muslim community if non-Muslims are allowed to use the word.
Right-wing Islamic groups claimed that Christians wanted to use the
word to convert Muslims to Christianity. 61 e government also seized
Indonesian-language Bibles with the word ‘Allah’ and only returned them
to the Bible Society aer stamping them with individual numbers and a
warning that it can only be used by non-Muslims.62
In April 2015, controversy erupted when 50 Muslim protestors staged
a protest against a new church situated in a shop lot in Taman Medan,
Petaling Jaya aer the congregation put up a cross on the building facade.
e protest, held while Sunday service was going on, contended that the
sight of the cross in a Muslim-majority area ‘challenged Islam’ and could
lead to conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Fearing that crowd, the
church then took the cross down and the police intervened. It was later
revealed that one of the protest leaders was the brother of the Inspector-
General of Police (IGP), the highest ranking police ocer in Malaysia.63
e fear was real as several churches were re-bombed over the Allah
61 ‘Christians using ‘Allah’ strategy to convert Muslims, Islamic group alleges’, Malay
Mail Online, September 5, 2013.
62 ‘Malaysian Court Restricts Use of “Allah” to Muslims’, New York Times, October
15, 2013; ‘More than 300 Bibles are conscated in Malaysia, BBC News, January
2, 2014; Tamir Moustafa, ‘Judging in God’s Name: State Power, Secularism, and
the Politics of Islamic law in Malaysia,Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, vol.
3, no. 1 (2014), pp. 152-167.
63 ‘Pastor of Malaysian church in cross protest forgives protesters, will wait for
enlightenment”, Straits Times, April 26, 2015; ‘Locals protest outside church
building, say cross “challenging Islam, Malaysian Insider, April 19, 2015.
203
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
issue earlier.64
In July 2013, an Indian parent in a government school complained
that non-Muslim children were told to eat their meals in a toilet during
the Islamic puasa (fasting) month.65 e school’s explanation was that
it was insensitive for non-Muslims to eat in front of fasting Muslim
students.66 e headmaster of the school was not sanctioned for his
action, reinforcing the widely held perception that the authorities are
biased towards non-Malays involving anything to do with Islam. What
was even more disturbing was that the police intimidated the parents
and students who complained, forcing all three non-Muslim students to
transfer to another school.67
e imposition of an intolerant Islam into the Malay community has
grown worse in recent years because of the inuence of the Wahhabi
brand of Salafism in the Malaysian Islamic community, including
amongst some key UMNO leaders.68
Disillusionment and Disappointment
e story of the Chinese community and UMNO thus can be summed
up in two words: disillusionment and disappointment.
In the earlier period (1955 to 1970), the Chinese community’s
64 ‘Churches Attacked in Malaysian “Allah” Dispute,e New York Times, January
8, 2010.
65 e parent of the child had exposed the actions of the school using her Facebook
page, which went viral.
66 ‘Students “forced” to eat meals in toilet area, Free Malaysia Today, July 23, 2013;
‘On Facebook, students shown eating in school toilet’, e Malay Mail Online,
July 23, 2013; ‘Non-Muslim students forced to eat in shower’, Malaysiakini, July
23, 2013.
67 Jeswan Kaur, ‘Eating and drinking in the toilet”, e Heat Malaysia, June 23,
2015; ‘ree students leave SK Seri Pristana, e Star, August 28, 2013.
68 James Chin, ‘Malaysia: Pseudo-democracy and the making of a Malay-Islamic
State, in W. Case (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Democratization,
London: Routledge, 2015, pp. 399-409; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid,‘ISIS
in Southeast Asia: Internalized Wahhabism is a Major Factor,Perspective,
Singapore: Yusuf-Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), no.
24, 16 May 2016. available at: https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_
Perspective_2016_24.pdf
204 e End of UMNO?
view of UMNO was mainly positive- it was seen as the partner of the
MCA and was responsible for leading Malaya to independence. Much
of the positive image stems from the Chinese community’s fondness
towards Tunku Abdul Rahman, UMNO’s rst post-independence leader
and prime minister. He was seen as someone who was not hostile to
the Chinese and multi-racial in his outlook (Tunku’s mother came
from ailand). He allowed the Chinese a freehand in the economy,
symbolised by the MCA holding the economic portfolio in government.
All this changed aer the May 13th ethnic riots. With the promulgation
of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and pro-bumiputera policy, coupled
with the loss of the crucial Finance Ministry, the Chinese community’s
mood started to sour. While the bulk of the Chinese population probably
was accepting of the NEP’s plan to bring more Malays into the economy,
its implementation, especially the use of ethnic quotas in higher
education and business licences, stoked a negative view of UMNO.
It was during the era of UMNO’s longest serving leader, Mahathir
Mohamad, that the Chinese community saw how politically impotent the
BN Chinese-based parties were and their corresponding retreat from key
government decisions. e MCA and Gerakan started to move into ‘fear’
and ‘service’ politics to gain some legitimacy while the DAP became the
main political voice of the Chinese community. While UMNO became
all powerful as Mahathir consolidated his power, the MCA and Gerakan
became more and more powerless. UMNO and PAS’s competition to see
who was more Islamic led to the entire government moving towards the
Islamic agenda, an area where the Chinese had absolutely no voice and
were told not to interfere in Islamic aairs. Mahathir’s decision to keep
the NEP under a new name was a powerful signal that the Chinese will
not be treated equally under his watch. e Chinese community (and
the rest of Malaysia) breathed a sign of collective relief when Mahathir
stepped down in 2003. e Chinese hadhigh hopes forAbdullah Badawi’s
administration and supported him in the 2004 General Election. Despite
the strong mandate, Abdullah was not able to reform the issues of key
concern to the Chinese community, Islamisation and liberalisation from
the NEP-type policies. UMNO’s ideology of Ketuanan Melayu was too
strong and began quickly metamorphosing into Ketuanan Islam. Islamic
standards were being imposed on the Chinese and controversies erupted
205
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
on a regular basis; from the Allah controversy to conversion scandals to
accusations of body-snatching. When Najib took over in 2009, hopes
were again raised when Najib initially reached out to the Chinese and
Indian communities. When this did not work, as the Chinese voted
overwhelmingly for the opposition in 2013, Najib and UMNO retreated
back into Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam, further reinforcing the
Chinese view that they will never be accepted as equal citizens.
The rise of Ali-Baba relationships in business and corruption
scandals, oen associated with UMNO ministers and senior ocials,
have led many Chinese to conclude that part of UMNO’s DNA is using
the state to capture rents. e scandal involving Najib and 1MDB is
seen by the wider Chinese community as a continuation of earlier
nancial scandals involving UMNO such as Bank Bumiputera during
the Mahathir era.69 Many in the community do not see corruption
as a governance or moral issue as they see corruption as the price of
doing business with UMNO/the government, due to the bumiputera
policy which enables rent-seeking by UMNO-connected businessmen.
As stated earlier, big Chinese businesses were secretly in favour of
bumiputera-only contacts as it allows them over-price their contracts
and keep other competitors at bay. For the wider Chinese community,
Najib’s backpedalling over the NEM shows his unwillingness to confront
or reform the institutional ethnic barriers against the non-Malay
communities. In fact the pressure from within UMNO and other right-
wing groups led Najib to create even more government agencies to
intervene in the market on behalf of the Malay community. ese GLCs
are seen by the Chinese SMEs as direct competitors.
UMNO’s views on the Chinese community
For the Chinese community, the two single biggest subjects they blame
UMNO for is Ketuanan Melayu and the rise of Ketuanan Islam. For
the younger generation of Chinese, these two issues are one and the
69 See Barry Wain’s summary of Mahathir-era nancial scandals in Chapter 6 &
7 of his book, Malaysian Maverick - Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times,
(Palgrave, 2009).
206 e End of UMNO?
same, and they associate them with UMNOs racism towards the non-
Malays, specically the Chinese. ey see UMNO as a racist party that
actively works to keep them as second-class citizens. All the issues
surrounding equal citizenship, the recognition of Chinese education
and the lack of economic and educational opportunities, Islamisation
of the public sphere and the rise of political Islam and right-wing Malay
groups are seen as deliberate UMNO policies to ensure the continuation
of Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam with the ultimate aim of
keeping UMNO in power forever. is realisation, half a century aer
independence, saw the Chinese decisively voting for the DAP aer 2008.
For the Chinese, the DAP’s ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ philosophy represents
the only chance that all citizens will be treated equally.
Ironically, the overwhelming support of the Chinese community
for the DAP has caused UMNO to move to further to the right and
reinforced the deep-seated prejudices they hold about the Chinese
community. UMNO’s prejudices in recent times towards the Chinese can
be summarised as the following:
A) e Chinese community do not accept the concept of national unity.
Many UMNO members (and other right-wing Malay groups) argue
that both the Chinese and Indian insistence on having separate Chinese
and Tamil schools shows that they are not interested in creating a united
Malaysian identity. For many in UMNO having all students undergoing
a common education using Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction
is crucial in creating a common Malaysian identity and ‘patriotic’
citizens. ey see the strong Chinese community support for Chinese
independent schools as a challenge to Ketuanan Melayu. e concept of
multi-culturalism and pluralism, as far as UMNO goes, does not work
and will never work in a Malaysian setting.
B) e Chinese community are too selsh to share their commercial
knowledge or help Malays in the business world. is is ‘ungrateful’
behaviour given that the Malays were willing to share ‘Malaya’ with close
to a million non-Malays to be citizens at independence.
207
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
Many UMNO members believed that without government
intervention, i.e. NEP armative policies, the Chinese will not be willing
to help Malay business or work with them. Although there is no concrete
evidence to suggest that the Chinese business community will not work
with the Malays without the NEP, many in the Malay community have
perceived the Chinese as greedy and unethical businessmen who will do
anything to win in business and keep all of the proceeds. e most recent
example is a Malay group who accused Chinese traders of adopting the
practice of swindling Malays as part of their business ‘culture’.70
UMNO members also regularly accuse the Chinese of being
‘ungrateful’ to the Malay’s ‘generosity’ in allowing them to become
citizens when Malaya became independent. eir view is that no other
country would allow one million Chinese (and Indian) workers brought
in during British colonial rule the right to citizenship when they should
have been sent back to China and India.71
C) e Chinese do not want to assimilate and acknowledge the Malays
as the indigenous people of Malaya/Malaysia.
Many in UMNO think it is reasonable to ask the Chinese to
assimilate. is is the most common complaint among UMNO members.
ey like to compare the Chinese community in nearby countries such
Indonesia, the Philippines and ailand where the Chinese community
are seen to be assimilated. ey see the Chinese in Malaysia constantly
trying to create a separate space and refusing to assimilate. For them,
the rst step towards assimilation is to convert to Islam and adopt the
Malay culture as their own. Many UMNO members are of the opinion
that if the Chinese are willing to assimilate then there is no need for the
bumiputera-non-bumiputera divide as o-springs of Chinese converts
can be legally registered as bumiputera. For example, there is an active
70 ‘Swindling is part of Chinese trading culture, Muslim group claims,Malay Mail
Online, July 4, 2015.
71 The column was written by Awang Selamat, the pseudonym for Utusan
Malaysias collective editorial team which reects the view of UMNO. ‘Utusan
calls Chinese ungrateful, again, e Malaysian Insider, October 27, 2013.
208 e End of UMNO?
government programme to convert all the Orang Asli (indigenous tribal
groups) in Malaya to Islam and assimilate them into the Malay race.
In fact assimilation through Islamisation is stated as a key component
of the work of the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Department of
Orang Asli Aairs).72 Another example is UMNOs endorsement of
Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, a Chinese convert who regularly insults the
Chinese community for not willing to assimilate. Ridhuan appears
on government-controlled TV hosting an Islamic programme, had a
column in Utusan Malaysia, UMNO’s main media outlet, as well as
the popular Malay newspaper Sinar Harian and regularly speaks in
government-organised talks. His message is consistent: the Malaysian
Chinese should assimilate by converting to Islam and should be grateful
to the Malays. Ridhuan blames racism not on UMNO or government
policies but on the DAP who he termed ‘ultra-kiasu’ (implied ultra selsh
and self-centred).73 is is the belief that if the DAP does not agitate
for equal citizenship for the Chinese and non-bumiputera rights, the
pro-bumiputera agenda will not be a political issue. Ridhuan Tee is the
ideal-type of Chinese for UMNO.74
D) e Chinese are always challenging the ‘social contract’ and the
‘special rights’ of the Malays and Islam as the ‘ocial religion.
is is heard very oen during UMNO General Assemblies and is
regularly repeated by Malay right-wing groups associated with UMNO
72 Frederik Holst, Ethnicization and Identity Construction in Malaysia, Routledge,
2012,pp. 105-106.
73 See the following articles written by Ridhuan Tee Abdullah in Utusan Malaysia
(1) ‘Dituduh bersalah pada nenek moyang, August 16, 2009; (2) ‘Bahaya
matlamat menghalalkan cara, August 9, 2009; (3) ‘Bila kacang lupakan kulit’,
August 2, 2009; (4) ‘Nasib Melayu di bumi Melayu’, July 26, 2009.
74 The government’s bias toward Ridhuan was so blatant that when a Malay
academic complained that Ridhuan had plagiarised his work, no action was
taken. In fact the reverse occurred; Ridhuan was promoted to Associate-
Professor shortly aer the allegations were made. See ‘Professor Tee denies
charges of plagiarism, Malaysiakini, November 21, 2013; ‘DAP: Sack Ridhuan
Tee for alleged plagiarism, FZ.com, Nov 21, 2013; \Scholar mulls legal action
against Ridhuan, Free Malaysia Today, March 4, 2013.
209
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
such as Perkasa. In UMNO’s worldview, all of the benets under the
bumiputera programme are the Malay’s birth right, and Ketuanan Melayu
was agreed upon during the negotiations for independence from the
United Kingdom. e Chinese community must not revisit what was
agreed upon more than half a century ago.75 JAKIM, the government
department in charge of Islamic affairs, regularly writes sermons
attacking the non-Muslims (i.e. the Chinese) for challenging Islam as
the ‘ocial’ religion. In fact, Article 3.1 of the Malaysian Constitution
states ‘Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may
be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.’ For
UMNO, this is equal to Islam being the ocial religion. In UMNO’s
worldview, the ‘social contract’ means that the Chinese and non-Malay
population must accept the ‘special rights’ of the Malay community
indenitely, and in return the Malays will not question the citizenship
awarded to the Chinese and Indians. At the 2014 UMNO General
Assembly, Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO Youth Chief and widely regarded
as one of the more ‘liberal’ UMNO leaders, said the Malays had ‘accepted
and they had never questioned’ the social contract they agreed upon
during the formation of Malaysia.
If the Malays can accept it by not raising the matter of citizenship
and acknowledging that we cannot shut down vernacular schools,
why are there those among non-Malays who refuse to honour what
they have previously agreed upon? Why are there those who ask for
the Malay special privileges to be stopped, those who dispute the
position of the Malay rulers and even those who cannot speak a
word of the national language?76
UMNO’s approach towards the Chinese can partly be explained by
fear, and this is best articulated by Mahathir himself. In his most
75 ‘MCA blamed for letting DAP question Malay rights’, Free Malaysia Today,
September 25, 2015; ‘Why are Chinese Malaysians so uneasy with Malays?’ Isma
preacher asks’, Malay Mail Online, May 8, 2014.
76 ‘Do not challenge our “special rights”, UMNO’s Khairy tells non-Malays, e
Malaysian Insider, November 25, 2015.
210 e End of UMNO?
famous book, e Malay Dilemma, he made it clear that the ‘immigrant
races’(meaning the Chinese and Indians) were more advanced compared
to the Malays in terms of work ethic, entrepreneurship and education
during the colonial period. He argues, if the post-independence
system was based on meritocracy, the Malays would be le far behind.
Unfettered competition with the Chinese ‘would subject the Malays to
the primitive laws that enable only the ttest to survive’. In his mind, the
Chinese were a menace. He warned of a ‘complete Sinocisation of the
economy of the country’ from the predatory Chinese.77
Conclusion
e Chinese community’s perception of UMNO is relatively simple
and straight-forward. It evolved as the Malaysian political system
evolved and was shaped decisively by Tun Razak and Tun Mahathir,
Malaysia’s second and fourth prime ministers. Tun Razak was the
man largely responsible for the introduction of the NEP, setting in
place an institutional framework for ethnic discrimination against the
non-bumiputera in all spheres while Mahathir was largely responsible
for starting the metamorphosis from Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan
Islam. Tun Razak probably did not envisage the NEP as a permanent
xture of Malaysias political economy. e NEP had an ocial ending
date- 1990. Most in the Chinese community initially supported the
NEP until it became clear that it was the basis of institutional racism
and became a tool for those in power and big business to seek rents
from the state. Mahathir, consolidated UMNOs power over the entire
political system and decided that the Malay community was not ready to
ditch the NEP in 1990. He started the competition with PAS, amended
Article 121 (1A) of the Constitution and declared Malaysia an Islamic
state. He also oversaw the near total political marginalisation of the
Chinese-based parties in the BN, forcing them to work in traditionally
77 Mahathir Mohamad, e Malay Dilemma, p. 25& p.51; James Chin, ‘A Decade
Later: e Lasting Shadow of Mahathir’ in James Chin & Joern Dosch (eds.),
Malaysia Post Mahathir: a decade of change?, (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish,
2015), p. 25.
211
From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
non-political areas to gain legitimacy. Each time a new UMNO prime
minister came into power, the Chinese community hoped that politically
the NEP would be rolled back, and UMNO would move to the middle
ground. ey were disappointed every time, pushing them further into
the ambit of the DAP who steadfastly held on to its ideology of equal
citizenship for all ethnic groups in Malaysia. is in turn pushed UMNO
further to the right. In recent decades, the rise of political Islam made
concessions to the Chinese polity from UMNO nearly impossible as
Islamic elements in the bureaucracy and external right-wing Islamic
groups saw the non-Muslims in Malaysia as a hindrance to the creation
of an Islamic state. is vicious circle is fought in the context of declining
Chinese representation in Parliament, due to gerrymandering and a
shrinking population.78 e combination of the aggressive pro-Malay
policies, Islamisation of government and society have le many Chinese
Malaysians feeling that they are second-class citizens. ey blame this
state of aairs mainly on UMNO and see UMNO as both racist and the
main culprit in turning Malaysia into a pseudo-Islamic state.
In the immediate term, there is no likelihood that the perception of
the Chinese community towards UMNO will change. As UMNO retreats
further into the ideologies of Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam to
stay in power, it will simply reinforce the current views of the Chinese
polity. It will only change when UMNO is willing to oer the non-Malays
equal citizenship.
Finally, the best précis of the Malaysian Chinese community under
UMNO can be found in a leaked US State Department cable written by
the US Ambassador to Malaysia on 19 October 2006. Titled ‘Malaysias
Chinese Minority: e Politics of Marginalization79 the cable quoted
verbatim future MCA President Ong Tee Keat as saying ‘ere was
78 At the time of independence in 1963, the Chinese population was about 37%.
By 2010, it had fallen to 24.6%. It is projected to fall to 18.4% of Malaysia’s
population by 2040. See Ho Wah Foon, ‘Chinese may fall to third spot, e
Sunday Star, February 28, 2016.
79 US State Department confidential cable ‘KUALA LUMPUR 001975’
leaked by WikiLeaks, Accessed June 16, 2016, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/
cables/06KUALALUMPUR1975_a.html
212 e End of UMNO?
once a day in Malaysia when MCA would get the le-overs, but now
we are just hoping to get some crumbs from the UMNO table. He was
further quoted as saying ‘of course we(the Chinese) are marginalized, big
business to small stall owners know that — but MCA cannot admit it.
297
e Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese in GE14
The Final Breakup: UMNO and
the Chinese in GE14
Epilogue 3
James Chin
Since the preceding essay was written two years ago, UMNO and BN
were defeated in the 14th General Election (GE14). Consistent with what
I have described earlier, the Chinese community abandoned UMNO/BN
completely in the 9 May polls. e Chinese voted for the DAP and other
parties from the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance, allowing it
to win all of the Chinese-majority constituencies.
A look at the results shows clearly that the main BN Chinese-based
parties, the MCA, Gerakan (both in the peninsular), SUPP (Sarawak)
and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (Sabah), suered catastrophic
defeat at the hands of Chinese voters (see table 1).
Table 1: Performance of BN Chinese-based parties in GE14
BN Chinese-based Parties Parliamentary candidates Won State Candidates Won
MCA 39 1 90 2
Gerakan 11 0 31 0
LDP (Sabah) 1 0 4 0
SUPP (Sarawak) 7 1* No state election
* SUPP won the Serian parliamentary constituency, a Bidayuh-majority seat.
Source: Malaysian Election Commission
297
298 e End of UMNO?
e MCA and Gerakan were, more or less, politically destroyed. MCA
won only 1 parliamentary seat and 2 state seats, out of 129 elded
candidates. Even these ‘wins’ were not really clear victories when one
looks at the margin of victory. In the Ayer Hitam parliamentary seat,
MCA won by 303 votes. In the state seats of Titi Tinggi (Perlis) and
Cheka (Pahang) the MCA won by 142 votes and 202 votes respectively.
In GE13, all three seats were won with a majority of between 1000–2000
votes. Gerakan could not even hold on to their only seat (Teluk Intan)
which was previously held by its party president, Mah Siew Keong, a
federal minister.
In Sabah, the LDP was totally wiped out. e winds of change was
too strongand a combination of PH and Parti Warisan Sabah,1 saw the
political annihilation of the LDP. Indeed the winds of change were so
robust that the entire state fell to the opposition, and the Sabah Chinese
vote went entirely to Sabah PH or Parti Warisan.
In neighbouring Sarawak, SUPPs only victory in the Serian
constituency, belies the fact that it has Chinese support. Serian is a
Bidayuh-majority seat. e other 6 constituencies contested by SUPP
(Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei, Miri) were Chinese-
majority constituencies and SUPP lost all six to the opposition by wide
margins.
e destruction of BN Chinese-based parties is best symbolised
by four party presidents (MCA, Gerakan, SUPP and LDP) losing their
seats. MCA’s Liow Tiong Lai was defeated in Bentong by a candidate
who was ‘MIA’ (Missing-In-Action meaning he was only seen during
the campaign period) prior to the election, Gerakans Mah Siew Keong
was defeated in Teluk Intan, SUPP’s Sim Kui Hian in Stampin and LDP’s
Teo Chee Kang in Tanjung Kapor. All were ministers either at the federal
or state level.
e Chinese ‘wave’ against BN was widely expected2 and despite the
1 James Chin, ‘Scratching the itch out east with Warisan’, New Mandala, April 22,
2018, accessed July 7, 2018, http://www.newmandala.org/scratching-itch-east-
warisan/.
2 See James Chin, ‘e “Apa Lagi Cina Mahu” politics of endless division, New
Mandala, May 3, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.newmandala.org/
299
e Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese in GE14
best eorts of the Chinese-based BN parties, it was simply not possible
to overcome the three core issues. First, UMNO’s ‘brand’ as a racist anti-
Chinese party with strong Islamic overtones. Second, as mentioned in
the main essay, Chinese-based parties in the BN are essentially without
any political power in the coalition, alongside the perception that their
leaders have ‘sold out’ Chinese interests long ago. ird, the Chinese
community saw the inability of the Chinese-based BN parties to criticise
Najib and the 1MDB scandal as ‘conrmation’ that the parties were
complicit in allegations of corruption at the highest level of government.
Of course the BN Chinese-based parties knew.
In the MCA’s case, it tried to deect from its association with Najib
and UMNO by claiming that the MCA was regaining its political
strength due to the rise of China. It put up billboards highlighting its
relationship with Xi Jinping and the Chinese government and argued
that the MCA was playing an indispensable role as middlemen for the
massive Chinese investments in Malaysia and Malaysias participation in
the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). e MCA even established a BRI unit
within the party structure to promote the initiative.3 e MCA appealed
to the Malaysian Chinese community on economic grounds, arguing
that the party will ensure that the Chinese community will economically
benet from Chinese investments and China’s rise as a global power will
mean the rise of the MCA in UMNO’s eyes as well. is did not work
as the Chinese community saw this as largely dishonest, given that the
most of the massive Chinese investments in Malaysia in recent years
were government to government (G2G) projects with little input from
the MCA. Moreover, it was still UMNO who decided if the investments
were approved, the MCA was, at best, playing a peripheral role.
In Sarawak, the desperate need to dissociate with the Najib and
UMNO brand was even more pronounced.4e SUPP campaign in
apa-lagi-china-mahupolitics-endless-division/.
3 As far as the author knows, MCA is the only political party outside of China with
a unit dedicated to the BRI initiative.
4 James Chin, ‘Losing a legacy, nding a nation in Sarawak’, New Mandala, April
27, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.newmandala.org/losing-legacy-
nding-nation-sarawak/.
300 e End of UMNO?
the Chinese areas was solely concentrated on state nationalism. Using
the tagline ‘I’m In for a Stronger Sarawak, SUPP told Sarawak Chinese
voters that they must vote SUPP in order to help SUPP and the Sarawak
Barisan Nasional (SBN) ‘take back’ political autonomy as promised under
the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). SUPP asserted that Sarawak BN
regularly says ‘No’ to UMNO5 and the Sarawak chief minister tried his
best to help SUPP by claiming that SUPP is not a puppet of UMNO.6
e chief minister made the incredible claim that the 1MDB corruption
scandal involving Najib and his wife had nothing to do with Sarawak BN
by stating that ‘… that one (any issue concerning Najib and Rosmah) is
their problem that side, not ours.7 Not only were the Chinese voters not
convinced, they most probably felt insulted that the chief minister could
lie blatantly about the political consequences of the 1MDB scandal.
e defeat of the BN Chinese-based parties caused immediate soul-
searching. Within a week of the defeat, Sabahs LDP party announced
that it was leaving the BN coalition. Gerakan announced that it too was
leaving the BN in late June.8 SUPP and the entire Sarawak BN le BN as
well and announced that they were creating a new state-based coalition
called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) on 22 July, the date of Sarawak’s
self-government from the United Kingdom.9
Even the MCA had to announce that it was reviewing its position in
the BN. With nothing to lose, the MCA and Gerakan leaders publicly
blamed Najib and UMNO for their electoral defeat. Wee Ka Siong, the
5 ‘State BN dares to say “no” to Umno – Dr Sim, e Borneo Post, May 2, 2018,
accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/05/02/state-bn-
dares-to-say-no-to-umno-dr-sim/.
6 ‘SUPP not an UMNO puppet, says Abang Johari’, e Borneo Post, May 4, 2018,
accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/05/04/supp-not-an-
umno-puppet-says-abang-johari/.
7 ‘Issues over Najib, wife nothing to do with S’wak — Abg Johari, e Borneo Post,
May 7, 2018, July 11, 2018, http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/05/07/issues-
over-najib-wife-nothing-to-do-with-swak-abg-johari/.
8 ‘Gerakan leaves BN, will remain in opposition, Free Malaysia Today, June 23,
2018, accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/
nation/2018/06/23/gerakan-leaves-bn-will-remain-in-opposition/.
9 ‘GPS to be launched July 22’, e Borneo Post, June 24, 2018, accessed July 11,
2018, http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/06/24/gps-to-be-launched-july-22/.
301
e Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese in GE14
only MCA parliamentary candidate elected in GE14, told the media that
… in the past we [MCA] faced too many criticisms and grievances, from
now on (we) will no longer bear the brunt for UMNO.10 Even Gerakan,
a party not known for even mildly criticising UMNO, blamed UMNO’s
arrogance for BN’s defeat.11
Unlike the other BN Chinese parties, SUPP is politically in a better
shape in Sarawak. It is still part of the ruling GPS coalition. Sarawak is
the only state in Malaysia that holds state elections separately from the
parliamentary elections. e most recent state elections were held in May
2016 and SBN won a landslide victory. SUPP managed to win seven state
seats, ve of them were Chinese-majority constituencies.
UMNO’s reaction to BN Chinese parties is telling. Aer being told
that the MCA blamed UMNO for his defeat, Annuar Musa, UMNO’s
information chief, told the press that:
Has MCA forgotten that since GE13, they have been crippled? But
we (UMNO) still carried them. ey were given a plump position
within the government, in the hopes that they would regain their
strength.
But what happened instead? Not only did they fail to recover, they
also appear to have been totally paralysed. ey failed not only to
connect with the people but also failed to win over their own party
members.
(In GE14) Up to the last minute, where the parties’ election
machineries have been carefully prepared, MCA failed to identify its
supporters and own machinery. ey just want to be carried.
10 ‘Ka Siong: MCA won’t carry water for Umno anymore, BN only alive in name,
Malay Mail, June 2, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.malaymail.
com/s/1637626/ka-siong-mca-wont-carry-water-for-umno-anymore-bn-only-
alive-in-name.
11 ‘Perak Gerakan blames ‘arrogant’ Umno for GE14 upset, urges serious reform’,
Malay Mail, May 20, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.malaymail.
com/s/1632980/perak-gerakan-blames-arrogant-umno-for-ge14-upset-urges-
serious-reform.
302 e End of UMNO?
Several days before the election (GE14), MCA issued a report which
supposedly said that there has been an increase in support for BN
among Chinese voters.
Supposedly, 25 to 35 per cent of Chinese voters had pledged their
support for BN.12
For good measure, he added that the MCA only managed to get 2 per
cent of the Chinese vote in GE14, and added a great insult to the MCA,
telling the party that ‘perhaps it’s best if MCA makes preparations to buy
its own tombstone.13
‘New’ UMNO and the Chinese Community
e 2018 Malaysian General Elections conrmed that the Chinese voters
are now solidly behind the DAP, and to a lesser extent PKR. UMNO’s
brand is simply too toxic for the Chinese community.
Going forward, what can UMNO do to repair its relationship with
the Chinese community?
UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin14 and Johor UMNO leader
Hasni Mohammad15 both suggested that one option would be for
UMNO to become a multi-racial party. e electoral logic is simple.
If the non-Malay parties in the BN, such as MCA, MIC and Gerakan,
cannot get non-Malay support, then UMNO will have to get their
electoral support directly.
is proposal is not only unworkable but will get little support within
12 ‘MCA should “buy their own tombstone, says Annuar Musa, New Straits
Times, June 2, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.nst.com.my/news/
politics/2018/06/375891/mca-should-buy-their-own-tombstone-says-annuar-
musa.
13 Ibid.
14 ‘Khairy: Time to relook Umnos structure, possibly open it to all’, Malaysiakini,
May 15,, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.malaysiakini.com/
news/424967.
15 ‘Umno has to be multiracial if MCA, MIC can’t function, Malaysiakini, May 29,
2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/427275.
303
e Final Breakup: UMNO and the Chinese in GE14
UMNO. Firstly it is unworkable because the UMNO brand is so toxic to
the Chinese community will take at least a generation before they could
even contemplate forgiving UMNO for its past racial vilication of non-
Malays. e reputation of UMNO as being racist towards the Chinese
community is framed deeply in the political psyche of the Malaysian
Chinese.
Secondly the proposal will not find support among the mass
UMNO membership because UMNO appeals to a segment of the Malay
community that is committed to the philosophy of ketuanan Melayu
(Malay supremacy) and increasingly ketuanan Islam (Islam Supremacy).
ey do not want their party to discard this core philosophy and it is
unlikely that non-Malays will join a party that believes in Malay and
Islamic supremacy.
At the practical level, it is also not possible to open up UMNO’s
membership. UMNO’s strongest branches are in rural areas where the
non-Malay population is negligible. e Malays in the rural areas are
more conservative and will likely reject the idea of a multi-racial UMNO.
UMNO’s urban branches do not form the core powerbase in internal
UMNO politics.
History also suggests that the bulk of UMNO members will reject
a multi-racial UMNO. UMNO founder Onn Jaafar tried to do it in the
1950s but failed. He wanted to change the party’s name to the ‘United
Malayan National Organisation’ to reect the multi-racial character of
Malaya. Yet aer UMNO rejected his proposal, Onn le the party a
dejected man and was never able to recover politically.
e strongest argument yet that UMNO does not need to change its
philosophy lies in the belief that UMNO still commands the majority of
the Malay vote. In fact, UMNO is the single biggest party in parliament,
with 54 MPs elected in GE14. Almost all were elected in rural, Malay-
majority constituencies. In other words, the rural Malay electorate in
GE14 is still largely a duopoly between PAS and UMNO. A group of
UMNO leaders think that UMNO’s defeat in GE14 was largely due to
the Najib factor, rather than UMNO’s core philosophy.16 ey believe
16 ‘BN lost because of Pakatans single person attack and single logo, says Zahid’, e
304 e End of UMNO?
that with new leadership and a modest set of internal party reforms,
UMNO will be able to mount a challenge to the PH alliance in GE15.
Many of them harbour the view that UMNO may follow the path of
Japans Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). e LDP lost power aer ruling
Japan from 1955 to 1993. However, it bounced back in 1999 before losing
power again in 2009. In 2012 it regained power in Japan. In other words,
they believe that UMNO’s time in opposition will be short and that they
will bounce back into power on the back of Malay support.
In the short term, the best UMNO can hope for in terms of reaching
out to the Chinese/non-Malay community is still cooperation with its
non-Malay coalition partners. In all probability, UMNO will try to create
a new coalition and ‘rebrand’ BN with a new name, very similar to what
the SBN had done with GPS. One viable way is to change the way BN
coalition works. Previously UMNO dominated the coalition to such a
degree that BN component parties can never say ‘No’ to UMNO, even
if it goes against their own interests.17 If UMNO can treat its coalition
partners as equals, there is a very slight chance that it will help its
Chinese allies to rehabilitate themselves. is will require a profound
shi in thinking among the new UMNO leaders. In practice this means
that while UMNO still believes in ketuanan Melayu, at the coalition
level it will have to practice UMNO leadership, rather than just UMNO
supremacy.
In the immediate future, as argued in the original essay, the
Malaysian Chinese have thrown their lot with the DAP and to a lesser
extent PKR. Ideally what the Malaysian Chinese hope for in the long run
are, rstly, that DAP and PKR may merge and create a single multiracial
party; secondly, that the Chinese will be given their rightful place in the
political system and be treated as equal citizen.
Star, June 23, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.thestar.com.my/news/
nation/2018/06/23/bn-lost-because-of-pakatan-single-person-attack-single-logo/
17There are no checks and balances in BN, says former MIC sec-gen,Free
Malaysia Today, May 22, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.thestar.com.
my/news/nation/2018/06/23/bn-lost-because-of-pakatan-single-person-attack-
single-logo/.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Teraju looking to extend RM1.65b in loans to Bumi firms' , Malay Mail Online
  • Perkasa Hijacked
'Perkasa hijacked NEM, says NEAC man', Malaysiakini, Feb 8, 2011; A WikiLeaks cable. 57 'Najib's Economic Advisers Feared Nem Just For Show, ' The Malaysian Insider, June 6, 2011. 58 'Teraju creates RM46.5bil worth of business', The Star, November 26, 2014; 'Teraju looking to extend RM1.65b in loans to Bumi firms', Malay Mail Online, March 17, 2015; ' Ahead of UMNO meet, Putrajaya touts success in bolstering Malay economy', Malay Mail Online, November 25, 2014.
Three students leave SK Seri Pristana
  • Jeswan Kaur
Jeswan Kaur, 'Eating and drinking in the toilet", The Heat Malaysia, June 23, 2015; 'Three students leave SK Seri Pristana', The Star, August 28, 2013.
State BN dares to say "no" to Umno -Dr Sim' , The Borneo Post
  • Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid,'ISIS in Southeast Asia: Internalized Wahhabism is a Major Factor,' Perspective, Singapore: Yusuf-Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), no. 24, 16 May 2016. available at: https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_ Perspective_2016_24.pdf 'State BN dares to say "no" to Umno -Dr Sim', The Borneo Post, May 2, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/05/02/state-bndares-to-say-no-to-umno-dr-sim/.
buy their own tombstone
  • Mca
'MCA should "buy their own tombstone", says Annuar Musa', New Straits Times, June 2, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.nst.com.my/news/ politics/2018/06/375891/mca-should-buy-their-own-tombstone-says-annuarmusa.
14 'Khairy: Time to relook Umno's structure, possibly open it to all
  • Ibid
Ibid. 14 'Khairy: Time to relook Umno's structure, possibly open it to all', Malaysiakini, May 15,, 2018, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.malaysiakini.com/ news/424967.