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A decade after Hisham waved the keris...

MP SPEAKS A decade ago on July 20, 2005, the then-Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein gave his infamous keris-wielding speech during the Umno Youth general assembly, in a gesture that has come to symbolise Umno’s turn to right-wing politics since then.

His act of keris waving is arguably the image that defined the last decade of Malaysian politics. Coupled together with Umno’s right turn, it paved the way for Umno’s dramatic decline.

The keris waving act was part of the push to the right by certain groups within Umno during the 2005 Umno general assembly. The resolution of the said general assembly was the introduction of a ‘Malay Agenda’ and the reintroduction of the New Economic Policy, which had been downplayed in the early 1990s.

The keris waving act and Umno’s right turn did not gain Umno much new Malay support as the Malay middle ground dislikes harsh and extreme acts.

Umno’s so-called ‘Malay Agenda’ did not improve the lives of ordinary Malays in the last decade but instead resulted in more severe wastages, scandals and corruptions in the name of advancing bumiputra economic interests. The recent 1MDB scandal is but the tip of the iceberg.

Umno’s pursuit of right-wing rhetoric has dramatically worsened ethnic relations in the last decade. The seeds of the Low Yat Plaza incident were arguably sowed a decade ago during Umno’s turn to the right.

But electorally, taking a harsh racial line has not helped Umno at all, as proven in the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

By championing extreme positions in public policies and rhetoric since a decade ago, Umno has kissed a permanent goodbye to ethnic Chinese and Indian voters. Umno is also seen as bidding farewell to the Dayak in Sarawak and Kadazans in Sabah.

The one symbolic act a decade ago that symbolised Umno turning to the right, also spelled the death of Barisan Nasional.

I often wonder what goes on in the heads of Barisan Nasional strategists.

Between the announcement of Vision 2020 in February 1991 and July 2005, there was a period of 14 years when national politics were relatively non-racial and Umno leaders were at least seen trying to project an inclusive image, whatever the substance was.

The Middle Ground approach paid off for Barisan Nasional electorally.

The last decade since July 2005 has been wasted in terms of an inclusive nation-building agenda. It is time for us to build a new Malaysia again, starting from the middle.


LIEW CHIN TONG is DAP national political education director, think-tank Refsa chairperson and Kluang MP.

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