LETTER | In this essay, we aim to discuss the function of a political party and examine how the leadership of Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has failed to ensure the party’s effectiveness as a fully functional political organisation.
Rather than engaging in unfounded criticism, our objective is to present a factual analysis that underscores the importance of visionary leadership in restoring Umno and to understand why the party must move beyond Zahid’s (above) tenure to rediscover its potential for greatness.
Understanding the role of a political party
At its core, a political party serves as a platform to unite individuals around two key objectives. Firstly, it unites like-minded people to champion the ideas they believe will shape society. Secondly, it provides support for an individual who can effectively implement those ideas and positively impact the lives of the people.
Leader-centric politics in Malaysia
In Malaysia, political parties often prioritise the second objective by championing a specific leader. An example is Anwar Ibrahim’s use of PKR to rise to power and garner support for his reformist ideals.
Although the notion of reform may lack clarity, now-prime minister Anwar’s book ‘Madani’ sheds light on the true meaning of his reform agenda, aside from just focusing on good governance and combating corruption.
However, this party operating system can have both positive and negative consequences.
Challenges of leader-centric politics
In its worst form, leader-centric politics can foster a patronage-based system influenced by remnants of our feudalistic past.
Umno, in particular, exemplifies this dynamic, where ascending to power necessitates unwavering loyalty to a specific leader, surpassing even loyalty to their ideas. PKR has also exhibited such tendencies but it has not faced internal challenges like Umno, which explains PKR’s stability until the Kartel fiasco in 2019.
Zahid’s role in Umno
According to this theory, Zahid’s role in Umno should have been to utilise the party as a platform for his aspiration to become the prime minister one day. However, the bitter truth that both Umno members and Zahid himself must accept is that he is not favoured by Malaysians.
Surveys reflect this sentiment, with even Ismail Sabri being more popular as a potential Umno prime minister. Zahid’s extensive list of corruption and graft cases makes him morally unfit for the post, despite his experience in managing various ministries.
The significance of ambition and vision
At the moment, Zahid’s lack of motivation to become prime minister poses a significant problem. While it is true that a political party’s purpose extends beyond championing a leader for the premiership, Umno - as a historically dominant party - requires its presidents to possess ambitions for the top position.
To become prime minister, a leader needs unwavering support from the people, which is reflected in party votes. Therefore, a strong leader strengthens the party. This strength can only be achieved when the leader aspires to achieve something greater than themselves, such as the premiership.
PKR’s example of visionary leadership
We have witnessed the power of visionary leadership in PKR’s growth from a small party to a formidable force.
Anwar, despite being thrown into prison by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, remained steadfast in his beliefs and fought for what he believed in. Umno must learn from this example to redeem itself.
The party requires a leader with a vision that extends beyond personal aspirations, capable of steering Umno back to greatness. If the leader’s focus is solely on escaping prosecution, it will ultimately prove detrimental to Umno.
In conclusion, Umno’s journey to redemption necessitates a leader with a grand vision for Malaysia and the willingness to shoulder the responsibility of power. The leader must think beyond personal ambitions and possess a vision that can revive Umno’s fortunes and shape the future of the nation.
By deviating from this path, Umno risks remaining a complementary party akin to the Liberal Democrats in the UK, a reality that would surely sadden the party’s founders and the founding fathers of Malaysia.
Therefore, it is imperative that Umno looks beyond Zahid and seeks a leader who can revive the party’s fortunes and shape Malaysia’s future.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.