KUALA LUMPUR, 22 March 2009: Rural and Regional Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib, one of the candidates for the Umno deputy president’s post in party’s elections on 26 March, shared his views with Bernama on matters related to Umno politics and the country.
The following is the transcript of the interview with Bernama journalist Syed Azwan Syed Ali.
Bernama: What prompted you, Tan Sri, to vie for the Umno deputy presidency?
Muhammad: I want to fight for the Malays. I’m representing a party called Umno, the party which champions the interest of the Malays as well as fight for the interest of Malaysians as a whole. When I was the Selangor menteri besar, I had given priorities to the Malays, but this did not mean that other races were left behind.
As a Malay and party man, I want to continue contributing to the cause at a higher level… to help the Malays, especially those living in villages. I want to enhance the opportunities that will allow the Malays to improve.
What do you think are the major challenges faced by Umno in regaining the people’s support after the 12th general election last year?
Umno needs to have a restoration process. At one time, Umno consisted of various groups. Prior to 1946, there was no Umno, only teachers’ associations, writers’ association, Kampung Baru association, imams and the Malay associations of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang. As it is, Umno might have detached itself from these groups.
But there have been a lot of changes after the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced, particularly in the period between 1970 and 1990. Prior to that the Malays were just farmers and rubber tappers; there was no Malay business community, we only had groups willing to serve. Aminuddin Baki (a Malay scholar in the 60s dubbed Malaysia’s Father of Education) once said we were like chickens dying of hunger inside a kepuk (padi storage) or ducks swimming in water [but] dying of thirst.
Then after that there were moves towards change. In 1970, under the leadership of the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the NEP was launched to restructure society and eradicate poverty. This was followed by efforts to train the Malays through the Junior Mara Science College. Various schemes were created to help the Malays to excel in education and business with the ultimate aim of achieving 30% Malay equity participation within 20 years.
In 1990, the participation was 18%, meaning there was some degree of success. Today Umno is mingling with business communities. The Malays have changed a lot because of education. Education opportunities are in abundance, from kindergarten right up to higher learning. Villages are enjoying better amenities.
There are a lot of opportunities under the NEP, opportunities for Class F contractors, bank loans and so on to assist the Malays. Now, the Malays are reaching new heights in terms of education and economic opportunities and becoming more and more competitive. This is what we want but we also want the Malays to strive towards achieving progress for the race as a whole.
At the moment, government policies, such as the NEP, are still seen as favouring the Malays.
Francis Light opened Penang in 1786, Stamford Raffles opened Singapore in  and then there was the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Agreement and then the Pangkor Agreement in .
For nearly 250 years from 1786, the people who came during that period had been enjoying their “NEP” which was provided by the British for their benefit. In terms of education, those who went to Victoria Institution, St John’s, Anderson School, Penang Free School, King Edward and Raffles School in Singapore were all from the immigrant community.
The Malays remained backward. It was as if they had been cold-storaged. All they had for an education were religious schools and they did not even learn about the economy. The just learned fardu kifayah and fardu ain and this had been the situation for nearly 250 years.
Now, do you think 20 years will be enough for a community which had been left out and cold-storaged for so long? Are you able to catch up with others who had been controlling things for centuries?
We should be given the opportunities to catch up. There are still many of us who are still struggling and you cannot suddenly say now you have to compete freely. The Malays are still far behind and they should be guided and at the same time the poor from other communities should also be helped. We cannot say we no longer want to help because we have achieved what we have set to achieve for ourselves.
There are also perceptions that Umno is only fighting for a certain group of people, and cronies, and not for the Malays as a whole.
There must be a restoration process, meaning we must be all-encompassing. We must bring the associations and non-governmental organisations back to Umno and garner their strengths in developing the Malays. There must be efforts to bring them into the party; maybe we can call this as an “Umno plus plus” initiative.
NGOs and associations, like the associations for taxi drivers, fishermen, farmers, youths, village chiefs and chambers of commerce all play important roles in this initiative. This is a new approach which we must adopt.
Are Umno members ready for the changes which you are advocating?
There must be a reason why Datuk Onn Jaafar (Umno founder) was able to unite the Malays. Datuk Onn had seen that as long as the Malays were not united, the British would continue to colonise the country. That is what the motto “united we stand, divided we fall” is all about.
The word “united” is now part of Umno’s slogan — Bersatu, Bersetia dan Berkhidmat. If the Malays want to survive, then the restoration process to unite the Malays should take place. Nothing is impossible. We should unite or else, we would be doomed to live the fate of chickens dying of hunger in a kepuk or ducks dying of thirst even when there is plenty of water. What Aminuddin Baki said would become true. If we refuse to unite, then our children would lose their rights.
The 12th general election saw the young voters shunning Umno and the BN. What can Umno do to woo them back?
Umno should incorporate the philosophy and ideas of the young generation.
They want transparency and fairness, so Umno needs to have new approaches that are suitable to the situation. Each era has different needs. Umno should change accordingly.
Having said that, the definition of “young people” is relative. The young people of the 50s will not be the same as the young people of the 60s, for instance.
What are your hopes for the delegates to the Umno general assembly next week?
The delegates should choose candidates who are able to save the party and not leaders who will rock the party.
We should look at the track record and bring about changes. In 1970, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (PAS president) said that whoever cooperated with infidels would become infidels. Now the slogan is “PAS for all” and we no longer hear the doctrine of Abdul Hadi, meaning PAS is making adjustment.
Likewise, Umno cannot be static. We should institute changes; we need to keep abreast [of the] times, or else Umno will fall behind.
What makes the Umno of the past different from the Umno of today?
Umno does not hide punishment meted out on members; it is more open and readily accepts criticism, so the people are able to voice out, criticise and put things right. By adopting a more open attitude and policy, the people will be able to see what is happening. We don’t put things behind closed doors.
However the opposition [parties] are taking advantage of our openness.
So, Umno needs restoration, to listen to the voices and ideas of the young people while at the same time remain true to its original struggle.
I am talking about a restoration a la the Meiji Restoration which brought about changes in Japan’s political scenario about 150 years ago. Japan at that time was under the Shogun and there was war. The Shogunate was toppled and the imperial rule restored and all the good values such as education and loyalty to the king were brought back.
The restoration process towards the original struggle must be carried out. The non-Malays will admire Umno because Umno will help to ensure that there will be Chinese and Tamil schools. It will be an Umno that is fair, a party that gives opportunities to all races.
Other (opposition) parties have nothing to be proud of. They don’t even have a symbol and from time to time they bicker among themselves. BN, on the other hand, is one and united. We are fighting for the same cause and if there needs to be adjustments, we will do so.
How do you rate your chances of winning in the elections?
This is the best chance for the delegates to choose, to study the track records. I created Malay towns in Selangor — Shah Alam, Bangi and Damansara.
What will be the first thing that you do if you are chosen as the Umno deputy president?
I will strengthen the party. Only a strong party will be able to save the country.
If the party is weak and there is bickering among the leaders — we have seen quarrels between PMs and DPMs — the Malays will be weakened and disunited. Our country is unique; it is a multiracial country and we cannot afford to be disunited. — Bernama