KUALA LUMPUR- To breath new life into Umno and for it to thrive, the 72-year-old party must recruit more ordinary members with full-time jobs, said Barisan Nasional Youth.
Its executive secretary Zaidel Baharuddin, a former electronics engineer, said there is a lack of members with full-time jobs in the party’s top leadership.
He pointed out that Umno’s supreme council mainly consisted of full-time politicians.
Zaidel explained that these are leaders who make a living solely from their respective ministerial pay grades.
“How many of them are working as lawyers or doctors? How many of them are not ministers? I think such members are non-existent within the supreme council,” he told The Star during an exclusive interview.
According to Zaidel, Umno, in its present form, only allows for full-time politicians to thrive as it requires ordinary members to invest too much time and effort to be involved in party affairs.
“It’s normal in Umno culture to have political discussions in mamak stalls up to 3am. Normal people just don’t do that. Who will be able to stay up that late? Full-time politicians do.
“So, in the end, you get a party with full-time politicians. It’s very difficult for a professional who works a 9-to-5 job to do well in the party,” he said.
The dominance of full-time politicians in Umno’s supreme council, Zaidel said, makes it hard for the party to be in touch with the grouses and concerns of regular Malaysians.
“They tend to get caught up in their own echo chamber. They are unable to understand the difficulties in buying one’s first home, or just simply putting food on the table.
“If we were in touch with the grassroots, we would have won this election. If you talk to anyone that’s not in Umno, everyone will say Umno will lose. Everyone.”
Zaidel served with the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism (KPDNKK) after leaving a seven-year professional career as an engineer to join the Perdana Fellowship programme.
“I wanted to be part of the political machinery and learn how to do politics influence policy crafting,” he said.
From early morning inspection at wet markets to crafting explanation on the float mechanism for fuel prices, Zaidel in his current portfolio, regularly goes down on the campaign ground whenever there is an election.
“As a politician and someone whose job is to understand the local market (as an officer in KPDNKK), you can pick up the signs of real grouses of the public.
“This is not just those who were angry on Facebook and Twitter, but actual Umno supporters who have never voted before, saying that this time around, they were willing to vote someone else in.”
The feedback that Zaidel often got was that Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders seem oblivious with the facts on the ground.
“It is as if we live in a parallel universe from what is being said and seen on TV by politicians in power, and the average Malaysian who is simply trying to make a living,” he added.
Zaidel said this also led to the failure of Umno and Barisan to draft relevant policies and address scandals, which resulted in its shock defeat in GE14.
“That’s why you get many Umno and Barisan leaders who are popular in the party, but did not do well in the general election.”
“So, if there are changes that should be made, the party must reform its mechanism, such that it allows space for ordinary members to nurture in the party,” he said.
“Umno’s mechanism has to reflect the real world and it also has to reflect our new role as the Opposition,” he added.
Zaidel also proposed for Umno to overhaul its party elections mechanism, as he argued that ordinary members should be given the power to vote for their preferred leader.
At present, Umno’s party elections only allows for branch delegates to vote, he said.
He added that top leaders often resort to placating the divisional leaders who in turn control the branch leaders in their respective divisions so that votes would swing to their favour.
“For example, if a branch has 5,000 members, they can’t be paying alms to all of them. But if there are only 40 branch leaders, that’s very easy because you only need to take care of 25 of them, which is the majority.
“The reason why this culture of patronage is prevalent in Umno, is because we don’t empower our members in a democratic manner. This has to stop,” he added.
Zaidel said that Umno should also change the way it registers new members, as the present registration procedure is too tedious.
According to Zaidel, it isn’t an easy task for ordinary Malaysians to be a member of Umno, as it requires a handwritten registration form and they need a local leader to sponsor their application.
“It takes about three to five months to get through the registration. For myself, I had to send my registration three times to get my membership approved. This is just crazy,” he said.
To empower Umno members, Zaidel said the party must allow for ordinary members to raise opinions, table motions and to vote during annual general assemblies.
“Then, this will bring value for Malays to become Umno members. Right now, there’s very little value to it,” he added.- The Star Online