On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Positive step towards non-communal politics

The feelings of Umno members is not surprising.

One newspaper analyst correctly said that “many of them probably are looking
too much into this decision and thinking about what Umno will look like in the

But Umno has, in fact, accepted many non-Muslim bumiputras into the party since
it decided to expand to Sabah.

When the United Sabah National Organisation disbanded in 1991, its members,
including Chinese, joined Umno.

It is only natural for Umno members to take time to adjust themselves to

The decision by Dr Mahathir is highly commendable. It speaks volumes of Umno's
openness and far-sightedness.

The ordinary members may not realise it but Umno has taken another positive
step towards nation-building.

The MCA and MIC have, in fact, quietly taken similar steps to de-communalise
their memberships.

Last week, a Chinese delegate was featured attending the MIC general assembly
in Johor Baru. He heads the Kupang MIC branch chairman in Kedah and is a
delegate from the Baling division.

In the case of MCA, there are already Indian and Thai members, mostly from
Penang, Kedah and Kelantan.

They may be token members in their respective parties at this point in time,
but an evolution is slowly taking place.

The Malay-dominated Parti Keadilan Nasional has several non-Malays in its
leadership line-up and are accepted by the Malay members.

The membership of PAS is restricted to only Muslims but it has toyed with the
idea of letting non-Muslims become associate members.

The idea has, however, not taken off because of purported unacceptance at
grassroots level.

The other two opposition parties, the DAP and Parti Rakyat Malaysia, is
multi-racial in set-up but dominated by Chinese and Malays respectively.

The de-communalising of Malaysian politics is a natural process. Communal
politics will lose its appeal in years to come.

Communal-based parties like Umno, MCA and MIC may adopt a non-communal approach
in their politics but the racial identification is something these parties will
have to relook at in future.

At this juncture, the leaders and members of the big three would certainly want
to maintain the status quo. For operational purposes, these ethnic structures
enable the parties to mobilise their strength more effectively.

To project a more multi-racial image, Barisan Nasional should be

The Barisan supreme council now meets only once or twice a year, as required
under its constitution, or when the need arises.

Although most of the Barisan component party leaders are represented in the
Cabinet, which meets every Wednesday, it would be good for the Barisan
leadership to meet every month.

The Barisan supreme council could meet after or before Umno supreme council

More press statements could be jointly issued by the Barisan leaders to project
unity in the coalition.

At grassroots level, Barisan committees could carry out more projects and activities.

The unprecedented move by the Seputih Umno division to invite MCA
vice-president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting to open its Youth and Wanita meetings
should be emulated by others.

Last week, the Sabak Bernam MCA division broke a 50-year-old tradition when its
meeting was opened by the constituency MP, Datuk Zainal Dahlan.

The Barisan Youth executive committee has also shown its ability to handle the
controversial university quota issue sensibly.

Instead of playing to the gallery to score points, Umno Youth emphasised the
need to maintain the quota system and, at the same time, called for the high
achievers to be admitted into university.

Barisan Youth leaders visited Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad as a
collective group to resolve the issue.

These are commendable efforts for BN to evolve into a more integrated party in
image and activities.

The notion of a coalition should not be projected only during elections but
must be seen to function as a cohesive unit at all times.

By meeting more often and regularly as a party rather than a coalition, it
would serve as a reminder to Malaysians that the country is led by a moderate
multi-racial force.

That aside, the Election Commission must try to draw up more racially-mixed
constituencies when it begins its redelineation exercise of electoral

Politicians, regardless of their parties, should no longer bring up issues that
only interest one particular race during election campaigns. That would reduce
the use of communal and religious issues.

No Malaysian should be fearful of moves to reduce communal politics because the
old ways will not remain forever.

It is better for the parties concerned to be far-sighted and take the necessary
steps to remain relevant.