On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Foreign media should get to know us better

In the run-up to this year's Umno  general assembly, the foreign media had
stated boldly in their stories that Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir  Mohamad should step down.

There appears to be a concerted  effort
by the foreign media. The  Asian Wall
Street Journal, in its  June 12 edition,
made the strongest  attack against the
Prime Minister.

Dr Mahathir, it claimed, “is psychologically incapable of making  the adjustments necessary to chart  a recovery.''

The Prime Minister, it said, “can  best
serve Malaysia and secure his  legacy by
announcing immediately  his intention to
retire in the near  future. Dr Mahathir
should resist  the classic delusion of
indispensability that afflicts so many presidents and premiers, the urge
to  stay on indefinitely.''

Amid calls by Umno Youth leaders for party reforms, these foreign
correspondents had interpreted it to mean that the battle lines  were drawn and that the time was  ripe for the final push.

First, Suharto in Indonesia, now  Dr
Mahathir in Malaysia. After all,  what
can be more gleeful than to  see the fall
of Asia's most outspoken leader against Western neo-colonialism.

As the drum beat against nepotism, cronyism and collusion became louder, the
Western press  took it as a signal that
the Umno  grassroots would take a
strong  stand against Dr Mahathir at
the  assembly.

They were wrong. Their expectations fell flat. They struggled in exasperation
to “jazz up'' their stories  to make
their copies more sensational.

A low-key speech by Dr Mahathir  was
reported around the globe as 
“anti-Western lashing'' and “Western attacks.''

All the foreign reports were padded with references to the May 13  riots. After nearly 30 years, they  still refuse to let it rest.

There are a few pointers these  foreign
correspondents can pick up  after the
Umno general assembly.

For a start, the ability to speak  and
understand Bahasa Malaysia  and a better
appreciation of the  Malay culture will
help them gain  an insight into the
spirit of Umno.

The “Malayness'' in Umno is evident, with its large rural membership. The
washing of dirty linen in  public or
membuka pekung didada  would be met with
much disapproval.

As in every Umno general assembly, the speeches are laced with  pantun and syair  tools widely 
used by delegates to put forth their 
views and criticisms to the leadership.

While pantun is effectively used  to deal
with sensitive and delicate  issues,
syair, if presented well, can  tug at the
heartstrings of the most 

Such presentation would bring  laughter
from the audience, breaking the monotony of the proceedings. Foreign
correspondents who  expected tension were
perplexed at  the gaiety.

This subtle style of criticism,  which
even those among the younger generation may not understand, has survived the years.

An appreciation of such subtlety  and a
better understanding of  Umno politics
would have made the  foreign newsmen
realise why the  call against cronyism,
nepotism  and collusion was met with so
much  resistance.

These issues are not alien to  Umno
members but the way they  were
highlighted goes against  Umno

Kronisme, nepotisme, reformasi  are
borrowed (Indonesian) words  and hardly
used in the Bahasa Malaysia vocabulary. The fact that  they were widely used during the  recent political turmoil in Indonesia sent
wrong signals to the Umno 

Amid debate on these issues,  Wanita Umno
chief Datuk Dr Zaharah Sulaiman pointed out that  Umno members should not forget  the term hipokrit.

It will be difficult for those who  press
for reformation in Umno to  live up to
their ideals if they have  also gained
greatly from their political connections.

However, the Western press misread the sentiments of Umno members.

Following the resignation of Suharto, they began drawing parallels  between Malaysia and Indonesia  but ignored the many differences  between the two countries. The political,
economic and population  make-up of
Malaysia and Indonesia  are poles

Besides the bank credit squeeze  and low
share prices, there is no astronomical price rise in Malaysian  consumer items.

There has been some misforgivings against the leadership for the  economic crunch but none of the  “clenched fist'' resentment which  can generate into hatred.

As the Malay adage goes, tak  kenal maka
tak cinta. Perhaps the  foreign media
should get to know  us better