By Lee Yew Meng

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--A reformed Umno — and how is that even plausible? Two buddies, a Malay and non-Malay (age late 60s) retorted when I broached the subject.

This topic came about when Umno vice president Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin announced that his party is “fighting for reforms”.

To my mind any reform must be geared towards the raison d’etre of the formation of the United Malays National Organisation; obtaining independence with all round goodwill intact and securing the mandate as the Malayan people’s representatives to govern. Next is the serious business of leading and managing the governance (through Alliance and BN) towards a successful new nation for Malayans, and then Malaysians. We had community based parties (consequence of “divide and rule”) working intimately together to ensure that all communities were not left out — that was how earnest the political philosophy was, then.

Muslim clerics within Umno who were not content with just the Islamic Bureau set-up had left and founded PAS in 1951.

Some 30 years on Umno was seen as shifting direction. Put simply — building a “Malay nation” took precedence, while acknowledging the existence of other communities. “Pendatang” labeling started appearing when issues on equitability were raised by non-Malays. 

Then along came the battle cry of “Ketuanan Melayu”. How else are non-Malays supposed to take this except as reminders of their station? Of course we had the occasional rebuts of the labeling and “Ketuanan” claims by Umno leadership but the disappointment and hurt had sunken in. Words matter and labels with malice matter even more.

I felt the non-Malays were taken for granted. Umno’s core partners; MCA, MIC and Gerakan were punished severely starting GE12 (2008).

Once upon a time

I grew up thinking of Umno as the party looking after all Malaysians albeit Malay led. Some of the MCA and MIC community-centric wishes did appear off-putting to me because they were a mite too chauvinistic. It is important that we are seen as more Malaysian than Chinese, or any others I felt.

We now reminisce about Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn’s cabinets which were focused on cohesion to build a Malaysian nation.

The letter and spirit of our Federal Constitution in recognising “the special position of Malays” in relation to education and government employment opportunities was fully accepted by all as part and parcel of holistic nation building. It was implemented as — all things being equal Malays should get the preference. It was up to MCA and MIC to put forward any exceptional instances.

The NEP (1971-90) roll-out to more comprehensively cover the “special position” objectives was largely accepted until its implementation went off course.

The captain of our National football team had a Malaysian name called Soh Chin Aun. Just check out how many non-Malay are in our National team now and how is the team placed according to Fifa rankings. There was even a Melaka Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Governor) named Leong Yew Koh. The Julie Sudiro and Zain Azman shows on television were good alternatives to the Dean Martin and The Black and White Minstrel Shows.

The various State Islamic Religious Councils upheld their assignments and jurisdictions without noticeable controversies.

To each their own was mostly the order of the day.

I wear Chinese and Indian type attire and Sarawak beads necklace for style but I don our batik (Indonesian designed is more attractive) with National pride. Nationalism must be about upholding Malaysian traditions and culture (including feasting with hands, fork & spoon and chopsticks), and Education, Sports and Economic achievements by Malaysians!

Where to now?

Umno knows precisely what is wrong and how they went wrong better than anyone else. It has everything to do with Rule of Law, Morality and Ethics! We can readily include Decency, Fairness and Common Sense too.

Let’s start with this notion that Malaysia belongs to all the Rakyat and the winning political parties are mere custodians. A good indication on how this was lost to Umno was when the then (Umno) Minister for Culture excitedly announced that the Merdeka Day 2012 theme was “Janji Ditepati” or “Promises Fulfilled”. The Rakyat’s celebration was hijacked to become an Umno testimonial occasion. I was flabbergasted.

Some 15 years ago an Umno Youth activist sought my assistance to be elected to their national exco. In all the briefings he just talked about the competition and especially the government positions he could be nominated to. 
I remember he was particularly keen to be on the Malaysian Airlines board because he wanted to see the world first class. I cannot recall him expounding any of his visions for the country. I vaguely remember that he was three places off the last successful candidate. There were some ten others after him. Creditable placing for someone who just wants to “get in”! He was obviously seeking a career in “Umno politics”. Of course Umno knows this!

Do we remember an Umno Youth chief during an AGM session unsheathing and kissing his keris as a gesture on how he will defend the Malay agenda? He apologised very soon after.

On GE 15 — our racial makeup and constituency delineation has provided for Malay-led parties to win the most seats, and form the government. Will it be Umno, Bersatu or PKR which will be the lead party? The others do not have the network to effectively cover the entire peninsula.

I see Umno as having the clear advantage if they are truly serious in wanting to lead the nation once more. Again, nobody understands the bureaucracy more intimately. Umno can literally get the delivery system working full steam the “very next day”.

Drop the “Race and Religion” rhetoric completely. How can the 2Rs be threatened in any conceivable way? Every single position of note is occupied by Malay and proselytizing is criminal.

Why has GPS been so adamant in disallowing Umno (and Malayan politics) inside Sarawak?

The Umno president should instantly apply for a “leave of absence”. The High Court has ruled that the prosecution has established a prima facie case on the 47 counts. It is not the question of him being unable to interfere because he doesn’t hold any substantial government positions. It is about the dignity of the office and the party!

Maybe a resolution could be passed to freeze the president’s post in the next party election until his case is resolved to reciprocate his act of decency?

A reformed Umno? I am all for it. Our beloved nation deserves a better playing field.


Singaporean Loh Kean Yew winning the 2021 BWF World Championship wouldn’t be such noteworthy news if he hadn’t been born in Penang. I’m told the island-state does this routinely; offering SJKC students who excel in their standard six examinations to study in Singapore secondary schools and continues with tertiary studies.

It is almost a no brainer for non-Malay parents to accept because there are simply insufficient places for their children in the public institutions of higher learning at home. Even excellent results are no guarantees. The admission quotas based on population composition needs fine-tuning because consequential meritocracy seems to be sidelined.

There is no doubt in my mind that the relevant authorities know the reasons behind our “unemployable graduates” predicament.

*Datuk Lee Yew Meng was the former CEO of the Design Thinking School of Malaysia. He is now the Corporate Advisor of Adamantine Resources Sdn Bhd*