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
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
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
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
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