Utusan’s VSS : Umno’s weakening bridge to the masses

UMNO’s annual general assembly for the year had come and gone.

Looking at the live videos and photos taken during the event, it seems that the grand old party is as strong as ever. 

Not only was the Dewan Merdeka filled to the brim, outside the hall, the walkways were packed with Umno members who were not delegates.  It was easy to have forgotten that this is the party that now only holds 20.9 percent of the popular vote, hanging onto just two states – Perlis and Pahang.

How Umno will fare in the next general election will depend on the path the leadership of the party has charted.  

It is the support and interest of the common Malays, be they party members or non-party members, that Umno must continue to win.  

Sadly, the president’s speech did not yield anything that would chart Umno’s path in the near future. 

It seems that the president is more comfortable going along with the words of Lao-Tzu: “Silence is a source of great strength.”

But is it?

Staying silent would only work if you are angry, frustrated, annoyed, confused, or overwhelmed.

It is meant to calm you, and the situation you are in. Venting out might just cause more problems if you say something that you are not supposed to.

However, as the leader of an organisation, staying silent and not charting a path for those under your charge simply shows bad leadership skills.

Staying silent shows lack of adaptability and having little vision for the future. A bad leader is not one who makes wrong decisions; a bad is leader is one who makes NO decisions!

How long does he want to keep silent?

The Utusan group, owned by Umno, will be 80 years old next year. It is now a national institution.

Utusan Malaysia used to have a circulation of 350,000 copies a day back in the 1990s.  That dropped to 144,438 in the first half of 2016. By the end of 2017, it was at 112,050.

Although it is not a party publication like Harakah or The Rocket, Utusan Malaysia is regarded as an Umno publication.

That. However, is not the case.

Since its inception in 1939 as Utusan Melayu, the newspaper became a medium for the people to voice out their opinion towards the British administration.

Since then it has been the sole voice fighting for and defending Malay and Bumiputera rights; just as Sin Chew Jit Poh has for the Chinese community.

With the change of government on May 10 2018, unlike other media group that had been seen as being pro-Barisan Nasional, only Utusan Malaysia remains consistent championing the Malay and Bumiputera rights and at the same time defending the Rulers Institution as well as the status of Islam and Bahasa Malaysia in the Federal Constitution.

The rest were quick to pander to the new government despite being fiercely critical just the day before.

Utusan is now facing with its most critical moment – having to decide on the fate of 800 of its 1,500-strong work force nationwide.  It is so critical that it warranted two articles written by its Economic Editor, Johardy Ibrahim.

The first article (Hello! Utusan Apa Khabar? – Utusan Malaysia, 27 May 2018) talked about the state of the newspaper in the post-GE14 environment.  It talked about Utusan waiting for a direction from Umno, its majority shareholder.  

In the second article (VSS: 5 Hal Kekok – Utusan Malaysia, 30 September 2018), he wrote about the dilemma facing the staff of the Utusan Group, whether to take the VSS offer or not, and the challenges that they now face.

Yes, Utusan is in financial difficulties, and is in danger of being de-listed from the bourse. But what has Umno done as its biggest shareholder?  

The most I have seen done is one thank you to Utusan for being loyal to Umno made by the Secretary-General of the Umno Veterans, Mustapha Yaakub (Terima Kasih Kumpulan Utusan – Utusan Malaysia, 30 September 2018).

Maybe the party leadership needed the time between defeat and the annual general assembly to get Umno’s act together, thus thinking about its strategic assets is of less priority. 

Only if at the end of the general assembly was there a clear direction. Alas, there wasn’t one. 

You only hear about the defections, the “we almost won in Negeri Sembilan, Melaka” and the need to stay united.  

My question to Umno is ; is the president the only one who is supposed to think and direct?

Whatever happened to delegation of duties? The Umno  high council is supposed to be a body that manages and administers Umno’s affairs collectively.  This is not a one-man show! Umno is not thinking!

In all the speeches that were delivered, none of the strategic assets were mentioned.  There was no mention of any form of appreciation or gratitude to the voters who have made Umno the single-party with the greatest number of seats won.  

The voters are strategic assets too.

With the end of the Barisan Nasional government, Umno’s most-prominent asset, the Putra World Trade Centre, will no longer see huge government-backed expositions taking place there.

I did not hear of any suggestion for divisions in the Klang Valley and Negeri Sembilan to be allowed to hold their annual meetings there. A simple vote to amend the Umno constitution would have made that possible.

Nor did I hear of any encouragement from the leadership for their children’s wedding reception be held at the PWTC.  Would it not serve to benefit the venue rather than holding them at hotels owned by others? Invite those from other component and friendly parties such as the MIC and PAS to have theirs there too at friendly rates.

The worst is the silence over the fate of the Utusan.  With encouragement in speeches, if 20 percent of the claimed 3 million Umno members were to buy a copy of Utusan Malaysia, the paper would stand to make about RM324 million per year; an amount that would have allowed it to be financially-sufficient.

Such encouragement, or even directive, would have been a far better gratitude shown to a very loyal strategic asset than a simple thank you from the Secretary-General of its veterans.

A simple direction for the paper to move would have helped it chart its course.

UMNO should realise that Utusan is its bridge to the masses. Utusan is still the favourite read for Malays from the rural and bottom poorer quartile. If UMNO loses its hold on Utusan, it will no longer have its reach into the Malay heartland.

But of course, to the leadership of Umno, silence is the source of great strength.  Greater than losing 800 workers.

(This article was first published by The Mole)