Now, six months later, Zaid has tendered his resignation unhappy over his inability to push through judicial reforms because of strong opposition from his fellow Umno ministers. While we do not know for certain why these ministers are dead against reforming the judiciary, we can venture a guess that perhaps self and party interest were being placed above national and public interests.
Zaid’s resignation is the first instance of a minister quitting over a point of principle and this should be lauded by all Malaysians. His resignation, coming so soon after the latest use of the ISA, gives those in the BN component parties plenty of food for thought.
If an Umno minister holding a senior cabinet position cannot even succeed in influencing his fellow party members to reform the judiciary, who else can?
After March 8, there were voices from the Gerakan grassroots asking the leaders to consider pulling the party out of BN. The leadership refused, saying Gerakan would push Umno to reform from within BN. This has become one of their strongest arguments for remaining in the race-based coalition.
Zaid’s case clearly shows that if an Umno Minister cannot push through law reforms, how do component parties, such as MCA or Gerakan, expect to push for change in BN?
The Ahmad Ismail case has shown that, despite the BN supreme council asking Umno to discipline its own recalcitrant member, the three-year suspension was just a slap on the wrist. And for that slap on the wrist, the whole nation paid an even heavier price of having three of its citizens arrested under the ISA, one an innocent reporter who was only doing her job.
This episode clearly shows that when the heads of component parties say that they can push Umno to change, they are either trying to hoodwink their members or are in self denial mode.
It is clear from these two cases that reforming Umno will be an almost impossible task. Bearing in mind that ex-Gerakan president Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik recently said that the party is like a beggar inside the coalition, and that an ex-MCA vice president said MCA is like a slave, it is clear that the master is not going to listen to the slave or the beggar no matter how much they slog or beg.
So why are they still staying on? Is it for ideological reasons? For MCA, being a race-based party, staying in a race-based coalition would not be too much of a clash with their ideology. But for Gerakan, how are the leaders going to reconcile their own calls to the members to go back to promoting a “non-racial, fair and equitable society” by remaining in BN? It is rather hypocritical to sing one tune while dancing to another.
MCA faces a hot battle in the coming party elections, with all positions likely to be contested. However, most of the top positions will be contested by familiar faces, and, therefore, we can conclude that any change will most likely be cosmetic. It is just like old wine in a new bottle. It is still the same old vintage and no drastic change can be expected.
As for Gerakan, many reports, including a recent one by Merdeka Review (a Chinese website), stated that 80 per cent of its members wanted the leadership to take the party out. Why are the party leaders not heeding the calls of the grassroots? This stubborn refusal to acknowledge the majority wish can only fan speculation which will do a lot of harm to the party leadership.
Keng Yaik, now the Gerakan advisor, stated in an interview with “Off the Edge” that if a referendum is carried out now, most members would opt to vote for the party pulling out of BN. His assessment is in line with that of most political analysts and party insiders.
Nevertheless, Gerakan acting president Dr Koh Tsu Koon differed in opinion, saying those who wanted the party out were only a small minority.
Since there is a difference in opinion of the past and present presidents, many members think that a referendum to decide the direction of the party would be in order in the coming National Delegates’ Conference.
So far, Gerakan leaders have not decided on calling for a referendum, which they think unsuitable at the moment because the delegates may be too emotional. This sort of thinking will not go down well with the grassroots, who are matured enough to know what is good and bad, not only for the party, but, more importantly, for the people and the country.
Many of them are already talking about an indirect way of getting the message across if a referendum is not allowed. One indirect way is, of course, to have someone contest against the top leader and, if that someone manages to get a sizeable percentage of votes, it would be a very strong signal that most members want Gerakan out of BN.
In a democratic world, history has shown that the more the leaders try to resist change, the greater would be the resulting tectonic shift.
The Gerakan leadership, in trying to resist change, may inadvertently fall into the danger of becoming a party reduced to having too many generals and very few foot soldiers.