Beautiful Malaysia

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Char Kuay in the morning brings people together to the table

Malaysia turned 55 last weekend.  Although the electronic and social media platforms are filled with rancorous exchanges, the general population is nice to each other, no matter the political leaning.

We come from a somewhat mixed family. My father was attended to by an Amahwhen he was little.  His eldest sister married a wonderful Chinese man whose last words were, “Tell the world that I lived and died as a Muslim.” Two Chinese and an Indian were married into my family.

Slightly more than four decades ago I went to a Chinese kindergarten somewhere in Melaka.  It was just a couple of years after 13 May 1969 but the relationship between races then was good, or so it seemed to this little boy then.  Although I cannot recall any of my schoolmates’ name, we played together.  Almost every evening my father would take me to Uncle Ah Boon’s house where I would converse with them in beginner’s Mandarin before stopping for some Putu Piring at the foot of Bukit Peringgit.

I went to the St John’s Primary School on Jalan Bukit Nanas and had great classmates such as Yong Choon Wah, Chow Kah Sung, Michael Foo.  While waiting for the bus to go home, Choon Wah and I and a few others would go up and down the escalators at the neighbouring AIA building where an A&W outlet was once located until the Sikh jaganabbed us and threatened to send us to the police station. Not once did my friends and I see each other, other than as fellow Malaysians.

That jagabecame famous on 4 August 1975 when he was shot beneath the eye by a Japanese Red Army terrorist who had taken 35 people there as hostages.  His name was Sukdave Singh.

My favourite Nasi Lemak from then till now is the Nasi Lemak Tanglin.  I often jogged to where it was located, a small stall in front of a Chinese kopitiam and a plate of Nasi Lemak accompanied by the kopitiam’s glass of Sirap Ais and Lengkung were the highlight of my week, almost every week.

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Not Nasi Lemak Tanglin. This was at the kampung kopitiam, downed with a cup of Kopi Cap Rambutan

A few years later when I was at The Malay College, I realised that 80 percent of the teachers there then were Chinese.  Ask any MCKK alumni who went there between 1972 to 2005 and they can tell you that the Additional Mathematics guru then was Mr Tan Gim Hoe.  Every one of his students would remember his famous “Tatapa. Tatapa” (Tak Apa, Tak Apa) as he tries his best to make you understand his lesson.  He even wrote the Additional Mathematics textbook! MCKK was Mr Tan’s first and only posting, and in the 33 years and 10 months that he was there he helped produce brilliant Malay students such as the former Khazanah head Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar.  I used to meet Mr Tan in town every Saturday for Add Maths tuition when I was in Form 4.  While some of the boys would be upstairs at Kuala Kangsar’s famous Yut Loy restaurant for a quick smoke, I would be with my Pau Daging, Add Maths books and Mr Tan.

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Mr Tan Gim Hoe taught at The Malay College for three decades until his retirement, and nowhere else

Unlike back in the 1970s, we hardly see Malays and Chinese dine together these days.  Not only do we look at each other with contempt, we also now question each other’s rights that are enshrined in the Federal Constitution. I blame the education system – the Arabisation of the National Schools, and the existence of vernacular schools. Children who do not grow up together will never learn about each other.

Just when everything seems bleak, my wife and I made a road trip along the coastal road in Selangor to attend a wedding in Sabak Bernam.  We stopped for breakfast at a nice kopitiam in Kuala Selangor.  For tea, we crossed into lower Perak where we found a kampung sundry shop that doubles as a kopitiam that has a mix of Malay and Indian clientele.

Michael, the second-generation proprietor, spoke to us in lower Perak Malay accent.  He told us that the suppliers of the Nasi Lemak, noodles and kuih are local Malays.  “It is the way of life here. We live in our community where we don’t see each other as Malay, Chinese or Indian,” he stressed. Prosper thy neighbouris his motto.

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Pulut Sambal, made by the kampung Malays, sold at this Chinese kopitiam

“Come back tomorrow morning for some Char Kuay,” he said before we left. “I’ll make them fresh for you.”  And we did! Michael and his son CJ served us one of the best Char Kuay ever, complemented by his homemade Seri Kaya.  But it was not just the food and kampung coffee that had us in awe, it was how Michael and his clients enjoy their banter.

It was there and then that I was transported back to the 1970s, where Malaysians eat and drink and joke together, without a hint of any political divide.

And that made it the most beautiful Malaysia Day ever.

Lest We Forget The Alliance

I don’t know what prompted the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) to go it all alone in the recent Balakong by-election.

Perhaps, it did not want to be seen as an Umno lackey as it had always been labelled as. But this was the first time that it had contested under its own party logo since the first general election in 1955.

As we can now see, there is a general lethargy among the masses in respect of politics.

We have had three by-elections since the downfall of the Barisan Nasional government and the turnout during the by-elections have been rather poor.

On the 87th day, the Sungai Kandis by-election saw a drop of 18,476 voters compared to the numbers during the 14th general election.

Umno had initially wanted to contest using its own logo but changed its mind. Under the BN banner, the Barisan Nasional saw an 11.49 percent swing compared to 5.84 percent for Pakatan Harapan.

Umno was helped by Parti Islam Se Malaysia (Pas) although the latter still showed a certain amount of distrust towards the former.

There was very little or no involvement at all by MCA and MIC. The majority was reduced by 5,842 compared to 12,480 on May 9.

In the Seri Setia by-election which was held 22 days after Pakatan Harapan’s failure to fulfil its election manifesto promises, Pas saw a 31.01 percent swing for the party, helped by the fact that BN did not contest but assisted Pas during the campaign period.

Pakatan saw a swing 8.02 percent votes against it. The majority was reduced to 4,027 compared to 19,372 during the 14th general election.

MCA, which contested under its own banner against Pakatan, saw a swing of 4.11 percent for it compared to Pakatan’s 7.46 percent.

This means that even with a very much reduced turnout (49.16 percent of the total turnout during the 14th general election), MCA had failed to make a significant impact on the voters.

The philosopher, Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás or George Santayana, once said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  In this case, the MCA had forgotten its own history.

Before the independence of Malaya, both the MCA and Umno were political enemies.  There was already a feeling of discontent among the Malays in the pre-war period over their poor economic position vis-à-vis the Chinese and Indians.

Professors T.H Silcock and Ungku Aziz noted in 1950 that the Malay peasants and fishermen were dependent on Chinese middlemen while Malays worked as messengers in offices where Chinese and Indians were clerks.

However, Umno knew that in order to achieve independence, a long-lasting relationship with other races needed to be forged. It was during the Umno general assembly of 1949 that Onn Jaafar said,

“It is absolutely important for the Malays to obtain closer ties with the other people in this country.  It is time for us to take the wider view than the kampung view. I ask of you, which will you choose, peace or chaos, friendship or enmity?”

Although the grassroots of Umno was against Onn Jaafar’s idea that led him to leave the party two years later, it opened up a door for both the MCA Selangor Branch and Kuala Lumpur Umno branch to work together in the Federation’s first local elections.

Both Umno and MCA competed against each other and against other parties in Pulau Pinang in December 1951.

MCA had only managed to obtain the support from the Chinese while Umno the Malays. It was Datuk Yahya Abdul Razak from the Kuala Lumpur Umno branch who approached Selangor MCA branch chairman, H.S Lee to discuss the possibility of a cooperation of the two parties.

In January 1952, both branches of the two parties announced that they were jointly-contesting the Kuala Lumpur elections.

The Umno-MCA alliance won 10,340 votes while Onn Jaafar’s IMP won 6,641 votes. MIC joined the alliance in 1954.

This alliance went on to win all but one seats in the 1955 general election.  The rest is history.

In the past, MCA relied on the English-speaking, urban-dwelling portion of the Chinese community who make up about 10 percent of the seven million Chinese people in this country.

That 10 percent is now drowned in smugness and disconnect as they now have the DAP to represent them in the Pakatan Harapan government despite how telling it is that the Pakatan Harapan government is not really interested in reforms.

MCA now needs to go down to the rural ground to try and win the voters back.

There is no way that the MCA can do this all alone by itself. It still needs Umno, MIC and even Pas to help it make a breakthrough.

This can only come about with a rebranding of the approach, and the fight for a common good, with the protection for all races remaining intact.

(This article first appeared on The Mole)

There Is Nothing Wrong With Our Sukhois

When the Defence Minister revealed to the world that we only had four Sukhoi Su-30MKMs that could fly out of the 18 that we have, I kept quiet because no one was interested in listening. This problem of the Sukhois had already been anticipated by both the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and by defence observers such as myself.

The RMAF was never told by Russia that once the fighters reach their 10th year, a major maintenance was required before they reach another milestone.

This problem had been anticipated from a couple of years back, even as early as under the leadership of the previous Chief of RMAF. The RMAF had since then made sure that all the other assets could make up for the Sukhois being offline for some time.

Today, news portal Free Malaysia Today reported an anonymous RMAF source saying that the problem of the Sukhois is not the weakness of the organisation’s maintenance regime, but more because of the way the Russians do business.

The deal with Russia for the Sukhois were made in 2003 during the final year of the administration of the 4th Prime Minister, and were delivered to the RMAF in 2007 and 2009. Receiving good support initially, Russian bureaucratic ways soon set in and made things difficult.

Although Western countries have offered Malaysia their fighters, buying from them always come with strings attached. When we purchased our earlier Boeing F/A-18 Hornets, the US did not allow them to come with the advanced weapons. We only received those after the Russians sold us their version of those weapons.

Coupled with slashed budgets, the RMAF had found it difficult to ensure that the Su-30MKMs undergo their 10th year undisclosed maintenance.

Russia needs to learn to rid itself of the bureaucracy that riddles its defence industry if it wants to continue having developing nations’ trust. Else there is no choice but for their air forces, including ours, to seek fighters elsewhere.

Why Malaysia Should Not Derail China

The Addis Ababa – Djibouti railway now cuts down the journey time from the landlocked nation to a port access to just 12 hours

THOSE born before 1978 would probably remember the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” written by Bob Geldof (of the Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (of Ultravox) with the opening verses sung by Paul Young, Boy George and the late George Michael.

The song was released in late 1984 with the aim of raising unds for the famine-struck people of Ethiopia.  Famine had struck the country from 1983 and killed more than one million people, with eight million more becoming victims. It was the worst famine of the 20th Century.

That was 34 years ago.  In the capital Addis Ababa according to a CNN report, dirt roads are being replaced by six-lane highways, and the recently-opened Addis Ababa to Djibouti electrified rail services connects the landlocked nation to the Port of Djibouti.

The projects were carried out by China through EXIM bank loans.

Architect Alexandra Thorer, who lived in Addis Ababa as a child wrote her thesis on the city’s urbanisation – “The speed at which Addis grew mirrored the pace of 21st-century urban explosion in China.”

Back in the 1980s, Malaysia was one of the examples of an economic powerhouse, modernisation and moderation.  Globally, we were seen as the voice of the Non-Aligned Movement, where the fourth Prime Minister spoke up against the West.

But that was three decades ago, just as how Ethiopia was back then when Bob Geldof and friends raised £150 million to help its people through Live Aid.

Most of the Non-Aligned Movement nations have now sought for development aid from China, especially those in Africa.

Ian Taylor, a professor in African political economics at Scotland’s University of St Andrews noted that Africa as a continent lag behind other developing regions in virtually all infrastructure sectors.

He says that Western companies and organisation are not offering any money for the development of these infrastructures.

The 32-kilometer Kuala Lumpur to Klang railway line was opened for use in 1886.  It started at the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, initially ending at the temporary terminus at Bukit Kuda, and onto Klang when the Connaught Bridge was completed in 1890.

This alignment passes the tin mining areas of Petaling and Sungai Way. As a result, development in these two areas boomed, and so did the other towns serve by the Federated Malay States railway, just as rivers and roads have contributed tremendously to other areas in the Malay states.

The East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) and the High-Speed Rail (HSR) would have allowed not just developments, but also businesses to boom.

The ECRL would have allowed businesses from Kota Bharu to arrive in Kuala Lumpur, and vice-versa, in just four and a half hours.

The HSR would have allowed people living in Kuala Lumpur to commute to work in Muar, Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru, and even Singapore on a daily basis.

Just as the Kajang sate businesses have been brisk since the completion of the MRT Sungai Buloh to Kajang line, both the ECRL and the HSR would have had that effect for thousands more.

But claims of neo-colonialism in view of Chinese investments in this country are not going to make us great.

Three decades ago, people would have stood up and applauded such claims, but those times are long gone.

If we want to see economic recovery and growth, we need to learn how to keep an open mind towards foreign investment.

After all, China is only our third largest foreign investor. Western companies including Boeing and Airbus now treat China as a key production and processing base, but China does not treat their presence as a form of colonisation.

Nor does the US, which has received $175 billion from China up until June 2018, has been turned into a colony.

The China-built Addis Ababa Light Rail system now cut through the heart of the city, carrying at least 113,500 passengers daily.

Norway is now mulling the idea of having China build a new Stockholm to Oslo high-speed rail. Bangkok plans to build a 2,506-kilometer high-speed rail linking Chiangmai, Nong Khai, Rayong and Padang Besar – all with China’s assistance.

Other China-assisted railway projects now include the China-Laos railway, the Jakarta to Bandung high-speed rail, the Serbia and Hungary rail link, Moscow to Kazan high-speed rail, and the Lahore automated rapid transit metro system.

Meanwhile, Malaysia, it seems, is contented in playing hero like a mouse threatening an elephant while completely missing the train.

(This article was first published by The Mole)

The Opposition Government

I remember a quote that is credited to the late Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This has a lot to do with the title I chose for this commentary as it addresses both sides of the political divide.

 The recent by-election in Sungai Kandis is a good example to portray Maya Angelou’s quote.

Slightly more than half did not turn up to vote. Proportionately, the percentage of support shown for Pakatan Harapan had gone down by 36 percent while the support for the Barisan Nasional went down by half that number: 17 percent.

Pakatan’s majority was reduced by 53 percent. The number of votes cast went down from 85.57 percent to just 49.4 percent making it the worst turnout in the history of Malaysian elections.

And this by-election was held on a Saturday – a day when everyone inside and outside of Selangor are on holiday. This goes to show that while voters are tired of Pakatan’s consistence in reneging on election promises, their trust in BN has not improved either.

Without wanting to sound impertinent, Barisan Nasional’s folly was probably to have former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak joining the campaign trail.

I was told by former senior government servants as well as friends who are voters in that constituency that not all voters have forgiven Najib whatever the explanation may be and that his foray in Sungai Kandis could jeopardise BN’s chances.

It is without doubt that as Prime Minister, he did a lot to help the common people, but as long as he has not cleared his name he should not be seen as the leader of the BN.

Whether his supporters like it or not, all the photos shown on mainstream media gave the impression that he still leads BN and wherever he went, he stole the limelight from the candidate and BN leadership.

Barisan Nasional supporters simply have to remember that he is now just a division leader without any post in the central committee.

The wounds are still fresh, and until he has cleared his name in a court of law, he will always be seen as the cause of voters turning away from the BN.

People have not forgotten how they felt when they voted to bring the BN down so that Najib could be removed.

Barisan Nasional also has to remember that they cannot go it alone and that Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas) has to be roped in in order to cause considerable damage to Pakatan.  Like it or not, Pas was the backbone of all the Bersih rallies.

Without Pas, Bersih is nothing. And it won’t be the first time that both BN and Pas have worked together.  A better understanding and cooperation needs to be formulated.

The good thing seen from the results is that the voters now realise that Pakatan will never walk the walk and is all about talk the talk.

Despite claims that Najib and the BN are the culprits that have brought about the “miserable” economic condition, all Pakatan has done is to do endless U-turns and rebrand all of Najib’s efforts and have allowed almost all the allegedly wasteful iconic projects to proceed.

The ones that have not been given the green light are being subjected to ‘continual review’. This only goes to show the voters that Pakatan’s claims about Najib and the BN were all apocryphal.

Ridiculous policies such as the imminent introduction of a third national car project has caused Pakatan supporters to vent out in anger on Facebook.

Hopes are being dashed.

In a neighbouring constituency, I see Pakatan supporters now flocking to Barisan Nasional service centres to seek help. It seems that they rued the day they voted their previous assemblymen out.

Their Pakatan representatives are seen as nothing but snollygosters and trumpery.

Given all that, Barisan Nasional still has not gotten its act together.

I still do not see an effective Opposition front be it inside or outside the Parliament. There are still no nightly ceramahs as you would see coming from the Pakatan side the day after the any general election.

If anything is to happen, BN must also be prepared to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  Until that happens, the BN is still the opposition that thinks that it is still the government and Pakatan the government that still thinks that it is the opposition.

(This article was first published on The Mole)

Hoping For Better Healthcare

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Among the more important aspects of welfare that the government has to look after without fail is healthcare.  Fortunately, public healthcare in Malaysia already has a good foundation.  The only thing that needs to be done is for it to be better enhanced.

Among the issues that has to be addressed is of the issue of the glut of medical practitioners in this country.  Every year, about 5,000 new doctors are produced, including 1,000 from overseas universities and colleges.  The problem now is that these new doctors have to do two years of housemanship in government hospitals before they can be recognised as general practitioners.  The problem is, government hospitals could only take in 10,000 housemen at any one time.  Therefore, new doctors would have to wait between eight months to a year before they could do their housemanship.

Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad’s recent announcement that the Klinik 1 Malaysia will be enhanced by locating doctors and proper drug-dispensing units could help the situation.  Not only that, it would alleviate the congestion that we see at almost all Klinik Kesihatan on a daily basis.  There are 196 Klinik 1 Malaysia currently operating on a 24-hour basis manned by an Assistant Medical Officer and nurses.  Having at least twelve doctors doing three eight-hour shifts would allow for more medical graduates to be absorbed.

If the financing mechanism could be formulated, the Skim Peduli Sihat nationwide extension could also help private clinics, especially those in the urban and suburban areas whose business is affected by the presence of Klinik 1 Malaysia.  The idea is for the B40 group to be able to seek basic healthcare at private clinics for RM500 per family per year, or for individuals above the age of 21 earning above RM1,500 a month, RM200 per person per year.  This would certainly help private clinics and help alleviate the congestion at Klinik Kesihatan.

I certainly hope that the government would roll these initiatives out soon.  The government must be seen to be serious in making reforms, and not look back and blame the previous government.  Pakatan Harapan is now the government and has all the means to improve the situation.  For now, Dr Dzul is on the right track.  I hope he would be able to move forward with healthcare reforms.

UMNO Needs To Revisit Its Past

It has been more than a month since UMNO’s disastrous show in its history of general elections. Although as an individual party UMNO has the most number of parliamentary seats won, it effectively controls two states – a far cry from the grand old party it once was.

As a party, it has failed to show its support for its leadership (I shall go into this a bit more later) it failed to garner the support of the young and first time voters; it failed to retain the support of those who have been its staunch supporters. Most importantly, UMNO failed to remember the reason for very existence.

I sense nothing but trepidation in the first few weeks after the general elections when one by one government institutions come under “reforms”, and then the attacks on the Rulers Institution, namely the institution of the Yang DiPertuan Agong. Hardly any word came out from UMNO’s leadership save for those that came from the normal members.

The strong hands that led to the resignation of two of our nation’s top judges also did not result in strong rebukes from UMNO despite it being a direct interference by one instrument of His Majesty’s government into another.

Of course I am of the opinion that the two top judges are also idiots for caving in and resigning as demanded. It was their job to show the independence of the judiciary and to protect the integrity of their institution, yet they failed miserably to show the example of stewardship to their subordinates as those in charge of that institution.

UMNO is a far cry of what it was back in the late 1970s, let alone what it was in 1946. Losing its power to govern also means that UMNO no longer enjoys the facilities that come with being a government. There have been members who left the party for the other side just because funds are no longer readily available as it was prior to May 9.

Branches find it difficult to hold their annual general meetings because the community halls are no longer available to them. Furthermore, they do not receive sufficient funds to hold their meetings at hotel meeting rooms. They have never had it this difficult and have no institutional memory of how it was before 1981 and Malaysia Incorporated. Members simply do not have the same fighting spirit possessed by their forefathers. What has happened to the ‘unity is strength spirit?

Furthermore, branches were set up without actually soliciting the support of the local residents. You can find that many of the branches are filled with people who are not from where the branch is actually located. How can these people understand the local issues? Branch leadership pays the annual membership fees for fear of being deregistered. How many UMNO members actually go to their respective branch to pay their annual dues?
Which is why at every UMNO General Assembly the Secretary-General would read out the number of UMNO members to-date, not realising that those are false numbers. It would have been almost impossible for UMNO to only get 2.55 million votes, including from non-UMNO members when there are 4 million members!

When the President was attacked from outside and within the party three years ago, hardly anyone stood up to defend him save for a few like Rahman Dahlan, Salleh Said and Ahmad Maslan. There was no ‘defending of the institution of the President’. It was every man for himself. I am of the opinion that members are to defend the leadership of the party when attacked, and change the leadership from within if needed.

How many division actually hold sessions with all members to explain about party policies, how to handle current critical issues after each general assembly? How many members who represented the division members actually attend the general assembly to listen to the speeches and proposals put forth by each state, instead of wanting to get as close as possible to personalities trying to push proposals or hand business cards to them?

There was very little done by UMNO divisions and branches to win the hearts and minds of the community they were supposed to represent. I only see programmes done for their own members.

On the federal level, you see more of UMNO members and members of the BN component parties attending ministerial events than from members of the local community. I chanced upon an event attended by a former federal minister who was lending support to a BN parliamentary candidate in one of my rounds to gauge the election temperature. Of the hundreds who attended, perhaps only a handful – less than 100 were from the local community. The rest were those who were following the former Minister, members of the RELA, police, local council and government officers from an agency the former Minister presided. You cannot gauge how much do the locals actually like the candidate because they were swamped by these extras.

UMNO is also famous for having one-off self-gratification programmes – blood donation, voters registration, skateboarding, free car wash. Unlike with the DAP, there were no follow-ups, no explanation done on why voters should be voting for BN, what a BN victory would mean for the voters.

UMNO’s information machinery at the branch and division levels was also absent. I have never seen any UMNO ‘ceramah’ at any kampung except during by-elections and general elections. Now that UMNO is the opposition, where is this machinery? It has been one month but everyone seems to be busy eyeing for party positions. Pakatan was already at it the moment the results of the previous general elections came out, and they never stopped.

UMNO needs a total overhaul and improvement in terms of mind-set, approach and its constitution. It needs to look at how PAS conducts itself as an opposition party, and its consistency.
In its party elections delegates would have to forget nostalgia. Some have not moved on from the ‘Najib Days’. Wake up. Najib is gone. He has stepped down. He may have been the best Prime Minister and party president but his branding failed. There is no point reviving that.

Instead, UMNO needs to look forward and have an approach that is outside the box. Vote for different people to do different things. The party president should not also be the person who is the Prime Minister-designate. The Prime Minister-designate should also not be the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition. UMNO would be better run if these three people are different people altogether. And top party offices cannot be held for more than two terms.

UMNO also needs to open up to members of other races – not necessarily as members, but members of an appendage: Friends of UMNO, who cannot vote in party meetings, but can run on UMNO ticket during elections. After all, UMNO used to have non-Malay members. PAS has been successful with this approach. There are so many BN-friendly non-Malays out there who do not want to be associated with the other BN component parties (there are only four BN parties left) but support the BN concept.

Talking about membership, UMNO should also allow for direct memberships, approved only at the headquarters level. This would allow for young professionals to join the party without being blocked by branch or division heads. And do away with the quota system if it is still there. As long as a member gets one nomination from a branch (or division for a national-level post), he or she should be eligible to run for any post in the division.

If UMNO is serious about making a comeback, it needs to forget the form it morphed into after 1981. It needs to evolve, incorporating the non-Malays for support, have its leadership subscribe to more accountability. Most importantly it needs to embrace the spirit of 1946 and have members who would not mind sacrificing for the party without ever expecting anything back. It needs to have hundreds of its own Rafizis without the negative aspects, and an information machinery that is aggressively going out there to win the hearts and minds of the masses. UMNO has to become a constructive opposition, with real professionals running and representing the party.

Until then, it can just dream on and wait for another 61 years.

(This article was first published by The Mole)