Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tengku, I Beg to Differ

I read with interest the comments of Tengku Razaliegh on why he felt compelled to decline Zaid Ibrahim’s invitation to him to join PKR. Unlike so many of the characters in Umno, I’ve always held a high regard for the integrity, intellect, and statesmanship of Tengku. No matter if I’ve differed in my perspective with his politics, I’ve always seen in him a man head and shoulders above the fray of practically all the BN politicians. Incidentally, given some of the cast of characters within BN, this may not seem like much of a compliment to the Tengku. But in all seriousness, I did say he’s ‘head and shoulders above’ the fray. That itself should be sufficient to reflect the major gulf between someone like him and the others.

I can appreciate the Tengku’s commitment to stay on in Umno, but I have to admit, as much as I respect his ideas, he’s missed the boat of this one. Tengku gives us two reasons for his decision to pass on leaving Umno. First, he writes: “I am not in Umno because I ‘harbour hope of saving Umno’ in its present incarnation. I remain because the cause for which Umno was formed, and the principles which guided its promotion, has not gone away just because we have lost our way 60 years later, and they need to be upheld.”

Indeed, I was shocked to discover that the Tengku has as much conceded that he’s under no illusion of saving Umno under its “present incarnation.” By his own admission, he’s not hopeful. But he’s committed, nonetheless, to “the cause for which Umno was formed.” The cause, for which I think he’s correct, was to build a prosperous, united Malay community while also building a similarly prosperous and united Malaysia.

But that begs the question, Tengku, then why be hung-up with Umno? If Umno as an organisation, by his own admission, has grossly deviated from this vision, and it is the principles which matter – not the organisation, then there is an equally – if not more - compelling case for why stalwarts like him should in fact affirm that what matters is not Umno the organisation which has been hijacked, but the principles of the nation. And one should be affiliating with those who remain true to those principles, instead of the organisational shell (Umno) which pretends that it still today the party of Tunku Abdul Rahman or Tun Ismail. We all know - as does the Tengku - that it is not, and will likely never again be.

Frankly, the Tengku's reasoning here essentially amounts to riding a train headed for the cliff's edge. What good are the Tengku's principles in a party that has essentially abondoned those very principles? The last several Umno general assemblies essentially affirmed it. In fact, the Tengku himself saw up close how much support there was for his vision and that of Tun Ismail or the Tunku.

This is why I think the Tengku is actually not consistent when he claims that the second reason for not leaving Umno is that party labels aren’t important. He asserts the main issue is how we preserve the nation’s key institutions which have deteriorated. Well, if by his own admission Umno has been the culprit, then isn’t it all the more imperative – especially since he has acknowledged that Umno cannot be saved in its ‘present incarnation’ – that he join the forces most committed to rescuing the people’s trust in the nation's institutions and principles?

If the aim is to rescue our public institutions and to restore the public’s faith in our system, isn’t it therefore imperative that he not be hung-up with the Umno label but instead join forces with those most committed to accomplish the principles he once – some decades ago – saw Umno committed to?

Just as with his first reason given for remaining in Umno, his second reason also undercuts his very own ultimate objective. How Ironic.

That is why Zaid Ibrahim and others like him are well-served to have left Umno. Because it is, as the Tengku himself states, the principles of the nation which matter, and not some political machinery. And in my view, Zaid and his colleagues seem more consistent in their approach to the principles than is the Tengku.

Too bad the Tengku doesn’t see that now is in fact the historic moment – a potential turning-point which if seized collectively by those like him, Zaid, Anwar, and others, may well ultimately decide if we are able to restore what we’ve lost.

I guess I’ll pose the following to Tengku: What would be a bigger gratitude to and affirmation of the legacy of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Ismail: Preserving a cancerous Umno, or preserving the principles the Tunku and Tun cared about?

G. Krishnan