July 2, 2008

The Barisan Nasional (BN) performed disastrously in the recently concluded general elections. The coalition comprising of 14 parties lost its two third majority with the dominant leader in the pack, UMNO winning only 78 of the 117 parliamentary seats contested.

The question remains: what accounts for this dismal showing? What lies at the root of the anatomy of failure?

The objective of this paper is NOT to highlight the “direct causes” such as lack of transparency, poor governance lack of accountability and corruption. This has already been discussed exhaustively in the MSM.

The goal here is to investigate further into the systematic fissures which gave rise to the perfect conditions for these “direct causes” to take hold, fester, culminating in the anatomy of BN’s failure.


To understand the root cause of the anatomy of failure, we need to examine specifically the historical elements which makes up the party political juggernaut of BN, specifically UMNO. This we will do by tracing out in broad strokes 4 main motifs (1) The Malaysian credo – the struggle for Malaysian identity – Merdeka (2) hegemony – the struggle for Malay supremacy –Perjuagan (3) command and control – in the form and shape of money politics. Finally, (4) linking religion and politics

Four elements have been identified by our team as the primary causal factors accounting for BN’s anatomy of failure.


Unlike the Palestinian “intifada,” one of the great anti-colonial uprisings of our times, where struggle over the historical theme of Palestine forms the main montage which defines much of Arab awakening.

In the history of the Malay archipelago since Merdeka i.e independence, as A.Alatas mentions in his seminal work, “The Myth of the Lazy Native.” There was never any real awakening in either culture or identity which allowed Malaysians to break free of the affiliations that dominated ‘colonial capitalist thought.’ Thus he concludes. Much of the remnants we associate with the past and even current Malay idea of “perjuangan” i.e the struggle for identity, is in effect a “false consciousness,” brought forth by a lack of intellectual break with British ideological thinking at “the deeper level of thought.”

According to Alatas, the leadership of UMNO suffered in varying degrees from these residues of colonial thinking which resulted in a distorted reality as to how best to accomplish their political architecture.

Unlike the Arabs and long before them, the colonist in America, who had ample opportunities to hammer out all the attributes of identity and culture which allowed them to successfully break away cleanly from the stranglehold of British imperialism. The Malay ruling party inherited the rule from the British without so much as a struggle. Unlike the tenacious struggle which once occurred in Indonesia, India and the Philippines. Consequently there was no real intellectual renaissance which made possible the whole idea of cultural identity. To substantiate his damning stricture, Alatas cites the total absence of a core intellectual class of Malays who could have been decisively in dismantling the oligarchies of empire. Most of the Malay leaders he notes without a single exception including Tunku Abdul Rahman were recruited predominantly from the top hierarchy of the civil service trained by the British, and middle class Malay school teachers and civil servants. What this class of elites did was instead throwing out the old and starting from a clean slate – they merely perpetuated the British model of governance. In short, according to Alatas, “they failed to set the pattern,” to paraphrase, it was this missing link which gave rise to the first head of the anatomy of failure. As all they did was merely perpetuate the set pieces of the oligarchies of imperial power, albeit with slight cosmetic changes.

As a consequence, even today, when we survey carefully, the political landscape of the Malaysian scene there remains residues of colonial command and control structures and much of them were built directly into the present day structure of BN.

Even today in Malaysia, politics is divided strictly along racial, sectarian and religious lines (a legacy of imperial divide and conquer) – UMNO which stands for United Malays National Organisation represents the Malay majority. The rest of the component parties which make up the Barisan Nasional coalition are similarly organized; the Malaysia Indian Congress, which has been in existence since 1946. The MCA, the Malaysian Chinese Association. What we see here is no attempt was ever made to hammer down these racial lines to forge one supra national party that was able to successfully encompass these sectarian interest.

As we will see later, the failure on the part of the Malay elite to hammer out one common all encompassing political identity was one of the reasons that contributed to the anatomy of failure.

To be continued.




Even at it’s inception after “merdeka” i.e independence, the idea of “perjuangan” i.e struggle for Malay supremacy, was directed towards preserving Malay hegemony at the apex of the political structure – “perjuangan” contrary to popular myth did not refer to the ongoing process of dismantling the elements of imperialism by continuously rooting out the old elements of colonial power.

Rather “perjuangan,” in the strict Malay sense referred specifically to disarming the “enemy within,” who were considered the Chinese minority. As not only were they comparatively economically better off than the Malays, but since they were centered predominantly in urban nodes. They were often regarded as having a tactical superiority, despite their numerical limitations.

These fears became only too real when the Alliance, the forerunner of the BN, performed disastrously in the May 1969 general elections. In the peninsula, the Alliance won only 66 of the 103 parliamentary seats in the general elections – history it seems repeats itself again, in 1969, Penang was lost, Terengganu was barely holding on. Kelantan fell to pass, and both Perak and Selangor hung precariously.

This was followed by the racial riots of May 13.

To consolidate their fledging political power, in 1972, the Malay elite coined the idea of “ketuanan Melayu” an ideology which states that the Malay people, who are all regarded as “Muslim” under Malaysia’s Kafkaesque legal system, are the original and defining populace of Malaya, and thus should have special status and privileges. This as Darkness and the ASDF noted based on their gaming constructs; set into motion the second head of the anatomy of failure.

As Darkness observed based on a Mordecai 51 Game simulation,

“by pursuing an economic order strictly along racial lines, they (the Malay elite) committed themselves not only on an intellectually unsustainable path, as the long term of effect this policy can only polarize the races and sharpen the sense of estrangement.

Worst still. It was a false economy that reminiscent of Sovietization, as not only was it socially unsustainable but it also meant dismantling the whole idea of meritocracy – even the British did not consider this a sustainable strategy. This was their first big mistake. You can more or less say 99.9% of the problems Malaysia faces today emanated directly from this one policy of promoting the Malays at the expense of the other races.”

The coinage of the bumiputra status along with the NEP (New Economic Policy – which favored bumiputra’s) formed the second head of the anatomy of failure.


The NEP (New Economic Policy) was based loosely on a pseudo socialist system of wealth redistribution in order to redress the economic gap between the Bumiputra’s and the Chinese. The consequence of this strategy led to a plethora of state inspired rights to promote Malays in trade, commerce, education and even politics. It could be said, much of the systematic problems i.e corruption / lack of accountability that mires BN today stems directly from this one corrosive policy.

One theory forwarded by Vollariane head of our strategic think tank is as follows:

“…..wealth distribution, if done correctly works – the communist and socialist proved that conclusively. However in the case of the Malaysian experience it failed because the elements of control and regulating this process of wealth distribution remained within the cloistered apex of the political elite – these people I am sure started with noble intentions, but as time went by, the whole idea got so contorted that not only did it fail to re-distribute wealth. It eventually a syndicate whereby concessions, licenses and favors were regularly given out the to same political elites to support and maintain the very political structure that made possible this corrosive practice. What’s important here is to note that the system has managed to close itself, that’s to say it has become self sustaining very much like an ecology – that’s what happens when you couple money with politics. They become so inextricably linked, they are in effect on the same reality – in effect what we have here is simply institutional corruption very efficient that benefits only a few! You look at the NEP, it’s being around for nearly 50 years and it’s still a dismal failure…why? Simple. Wealth did not percolate downwards as it should have…go one or two steps further and ask why?

One big clue is what happened in the 80’s and 90’s when the Mahatir administration launched one of the worlds biggest get rich quick schemes by privatizing everything from roads to tap water. The problem was the money circulated amongst only in a roomful of Malay elites – the vast majority of Malays, did not benefit from this.

Remember Astroboy, there are two components which make up this corrosive equation; to make money, one needs to have political clout, so politics decouples completely from being the platform of service instead it transformed into the basis for wealth creation – how then can wealth distribution feature alongside this equation? That is why the NEP failed then, now and in the future. It’s a lousy system! …..Where I wonder does serving the people even feature? It cannot!”

“Perjuangan” these days has taken on a whole new meaning, where the party slogan of the early days has bowed out and given way to an elaborate and grotesque system where loyalty is secured directly by monetary rewards. Even at the divisional level of UMNO “habuan” (pay out) culture dominates the social and political landscape. Thus the by words among many party members these days are contracts, concessions and commission – the three C’s which has become the very means of ensuring continued loyalty and support.

This explains why even for the humble post of branch leader, there is often an intense fight for it – it’s an opportunity to get onboard the easy money train. This in turn, spawns another layer of economically inspired corruption that is based on having to continually solicit political loyalty and support through money politics. Hence even at the broad base of the pyramid corruption has successfully percolated right through the entire system. Thus not only do those contesting at party supreme council need to buy whole sale into money politics as the condition precedent for craving out alliances if they want to succeed. They also need to continually replenish their war chest to ward off incumbents and this means elevating corruption as part of the party political process. At the mid band of UMNO the same ritualized process of maintaining power filters through, only this time the war chest is smaller, but the corrosive practice of maintaining command and control remains essentially the same. Even those at the base of the pyramid, at divisional level have to do the same, if they want to remain effectively in power, albeit of a smaller scale and finally at the broad band at the base of the pyramid, at branch level, the same corrosive equation is replicated.

The whole system is rotten right down to the core.

To be con’t

Part 3


The third factor which led to the anatomy of failure in the Malaysian political system, resides in the mechanism for perpetuating Malay supremacy via “ketuanan Melayu.” In mark contrast to the framers of the Pancasila (Indonesian constitution); who insisted on every cost on a culturally neutral identity, compatible with democratic or Marxist ideologies, and overarching the vast cultural differences of the heterogeneous population. The Pancasila was meant to be all embracing to all races and did specifically promote any particular ethnic group based specifically on religion.

In the Malaysian experience since the defeat of the Alliance (the forerunner of BN) in 1969 by the PAS faction, the Malay elites embarked on a master plan to consolidate their power by specifically weaving religion into politics to woe back the voters in the Northern rice belts. At first coupling politics with religion proved successful and BN was able to stave off the islamisation of Malaysia – as evidenced by the period of stability which characterized much of the the 70’s till the mid 90’s, but once again the formulaic approach ran directly into a dead end – the critical flaw in UMNO’s strategy suggest even within Islam there exist varying schools of thoughts as to what constitutes the gold standard.

The philosophical divide centers on UMNO’s blend of Islam, Hadhari – which PAS and many ulamahs (religious teachers) consider as a compromised and water down understanding of Islam. PAS like Coca-Cola sells itself as “the real thing” – the quintessential Islamic party that aims to establish Malaysia as a country based on Islamic legal theory derived from the primary sources of Islam, the Quran and Sunnah.

At a time when the air rents out with allegations of corruption, nepotism and money politics, it seems even UMNO has lost it’s capacity to successfully play the religious card to good effect.


This analysis provides a discursive account of BN’s anatomy of failure in the recent general elections. We would like to suggest that what happened in the election is not merely a knee-jerk reaction to mundane issues, but a real fundamental shift possibly even the beginning of a new age of reformation for the Malaysian electorate.

[Lead Writer: Scholar Boy / Astro Boy – support from Vollariane, Memphisto, Cerebus and kadjal / ASDF strategic think tank of the Mercantile Space Guilds / Interstellar Federation of Planners / alongside our newly formed Malaysian read clubs / PJ group and Damansara Permai read club – The Brotherhood Press 2008 – This article has been reconstituted by the FILB and contains previously unreleased material – it was once published in the Strangelands, APICS, Phi Beta Kappa, the Singapore Daily and the Intelligent Singaporean – this has been brought to you by the FILB – 2008]

END. 9989-0038-EP BP 2008

A comprehensive read list is avaliable, pls contact your read group for more info / new readers may request directly from us.

Many thanks / Lead Writer; Scholar Boy.


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