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Two ex-UMNO leaders tell us how their beloved party has changed

Let’s establish this before we start. UMNO isn’t doing very well right now. Losing the popular vote in the last GE was one thing but this whole 1MDB thing has just raised so many questions about 1MDB. Heck, 8 out of 10 Twitter users are discontented with Najib in some way. Let’s see what you guys think.

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We’re guessing most of you would vote either option 1 or 2 – and it’s not just English speaking people either. Even people within UMNO are saying that it’s no longer what it used to be.

But WHAT exactly did it use to be? As in what were BN and UMNO like back in the day when it still was THE leading party/coalition of Malaysia? What were they like during the times of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, and even Tun Dr Mahathir?

So here’s our story. We had to opportunity to speak to 2 people about this. In our title, we described them as ex-leaders. More specifically former Supreme Council members. Very quickly, the UMNO Supreme Council comprises about 50 people (including president, so our PM is in it also). They basically run UMNO but you can read more about them and their tasks here. But yea, these 2 guys we spoke to were, in other words, former top members of UMNO la.


Tan Sri Abdul Kadir bin Sheikh Fadzir. Photo credit to

The first one is former UMNO Supreme Council Member, Malaysia’s longest-serving Tourism Minister and current president of Parti Ikatan Bangsa MalaysiaTan Sri Kadir Syeikh Fadzir. (We’ve written about this party before too! Click here to read.)

Seriously, this guy was part of UMNO since 1955. Thus, for the sake of context, when he refers to UMNO back in the good ol’ days, he is actually referring all the way back to before Merdeka. Over the years of his service, he held various positions in BN before leaving UMNO in 2012.  He tells everyone why in the video below.


Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah. Photo credit to The Malay Mail Online.

The second one is also a former UMNO supreme council member and former deputy minister for higher education and currently CEO of Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah. He is still a member of UMNO and The Malay Mail Online has described him as the poster boy for moderation. He was even there, marching with CILISOS and 400 other people at the #AtTheEdge rally last week!

Some of you are already wondering, if he is as moderate is he is, why is he still with UMNO? Well, we’ll talk about it as we go along la. Also for the sake of context, in his interviews with us, he talks about UMNO as the good ol’ days back to 1970-1980. 

at the edge saifuddin

Here he is #AtTheEdge!

But the point here isn’t the two of these people but rather UMNO itself. So let’s talk about the 4 things that UMNO used to be, according to these two ex-supreme council members.


1. UMNO was something people believed in, so much so that they auto-win elections

We’re not kidding anyone here la. Parti Perikatan (before it was rebranded as BN) would not have been the same without UMNO.

As we all learned in Sejarah, UMNO was part of the trio that included MCA and MIC. They bergabung kuasa menjadi Parti Perikatan (and later, BN) and they worked together to give us independence.  No easy feat, most definitely. Parti Perikatan was instrumental to the country’s independence and the development of a very young Malaysia.


Parti Perikatan’s logo. Before it became BN’s dacing. I guess you could say that that ship has sailed right??  From

In our conversation with Tan Sri Kadir, he told us that this was what people once said about UMNO.

“Even if they put a tongkol kayu to run for elections, people would still vote for UMNO.” – Tan Sri Kadir Syeikh Fadzir

In other words, UMNO was the people’s choice.

And on the other hand, Dato’ Saifuddin said that UMNO was seen as a party that always berjuang.

“The public perception of UMNO is that it is political party that busied itself with perjuangan.” – Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah

So we can say that people had a prettyyyy darn good perception about UMNO la. But what is more interesting is their reasons for why people liked UMNO.


2. UMNO was once a place to serve


Tunku Abdul Rahman during the times of the formation of Malaysia. Taken from

UMNO was the party that berjuang. By this Dato’ Saifuddin said that he meant service. UMNO was about service. 

“UMNO was about service. They work for us (rakyat).” – Dato’ Saifuddin

Yea, that concept sounds almost foreign to us but hear him out.

He used his late grandmother as an illustration of this service. His grandmother was a very active UMNO activist but was never concerned about politics.

“To the best of my memory, I don’t think she ever spoke to me about UMNO politics. All she was concerned about was to berjuang. That was her favourite word. You have to berjuang, you have to take care of our people, you have to sacrifice.

I can’t remember if she actually used the term politics, because to her, its service. Service is berjuang. That’s UMNO to her.” – Dato’ Saifuddin 

Tan Sri Kadir didn’t tell us any grandmother stories (nothing wrong with grandmother stories okay) but he too spoke of the conviction of UMNO members back then.

“UMNO then, anybody who join UMNO, they know right from the start, it is a place to give, not a place to ask.

It is a place where you go and do things for the rakyat and the country. You get nothing in return except inner satisfaction. That was from the leadership at the top right to the leadership at the kampung. Top to bottom.” – Tan Sri Kadir


Pretend like there’s some really inspirational music playing.

Wah we also wanna join!


3. UMNO leaders didn’t expect anything in return

But how? Is UMNO no longer about serving the people? Apparently not.

“Now, when I talk to some UMNO leaders at the district level, they still talk about perjuangan, they still talk about service, they still consider what they are doing as work. But I also hear a lot of talk about ‘projects’.” – Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah

project cat

Well, during the times when he held positions, he mentioned how people would come to him asking him to recommend ‘projects’ to them, something he never heard of during the time of his grandmother.

“My grandmother’s time, she also went to see the wakil rakyat but to help people get jobs, to help people get transferred, but I don’t remember her bringing envelope, asking to help recommend. I don’t remember that.” – Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah

To him, these new requests were part of a ‘new vocabulary’ among UMNO leaders even at the grassroots level. A new language among UMNO leaders which saw them wanting to gain something from their service.

On the other hand, Tan Sri Kadir elaborated how the leaders back in the day would never serve for personal gain, about how sincere they were despite having the means to make money for themselves.

“They never touched the rakyat’s money. It was accepted that as a true wakil rakyat, you cannot touch the rakyat’s money, you cannot use the position to enrich yourself. That example was set by Tunku, Razak, and Hussein Onn.” – Tan Sri Kadir

tunku & razak

Taken from

But on the flipside, it’s not just the leaders who are different but the members as well!

Malaysia kena kecam for meeting officials in Myanmar. But what's the big deal?

Dato’ Saifuddin explained to us the concept of ‘duit minyak’ which is basically providing money for petrol when people go for ceramahs, conventions, and stuff la. Personally he doesn’t practice that buttttt…..he said that he would give if people ask la. But that’s just it. People actually ask for it! And according to him, people actually complained when he gave them his books instead of duit minyak when they came for his ceramahs!

According to Dato’ Saifuddin, these practices, something he described as ‘money politics’, started with some candidates for the UMNO Supreme Council offering gifts of various kinds.

The Malay Mail Online once quoted Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed’s calculations (who coincidentally was head of the PAC before the whole cabinet reshuffle) on how much it would cost just to get a seat on the UMNO Supreme Council. The answer? RM1.6 million. (On a side note, the same articles said a vice-president seat would cost RM13million.)

But Tan Sri Kadir had a different story. He traced these changes to Tun Mahathir’s administration instead.


Get yo popcorn ready!

So this is what Tan Sri Kadir said about Tun Mahathir being the cause of these changes.

“One of his weakness is that when he trust somebody, he really trust. Don’t like anything adverse about the person and some of the people he really trust, they stole big and a lot of the things that people talk about Mahathir is committed by people that Mahathir trusted but betrayed him.”- Tan Sri Kadir

But that’s not all. Tan Sri Kadir goes on to say that things got worse during Pak Lah’s time. This eventually led to the present UMNO which, in his words, has a system that is ‘rotten to the core’. 


4. Old UMNO might not approve of the new UMNO

Let’s just start with this quote from Tan Sri Kadir.

“Our founding fathers are already crying in their graves seeing the state of UMNO now.” – Tan Sri Kadir

And if you think that is a very strong statement to make, we actually found reports of other people saying similar things (links here, here, here, and here). Of course we cannot speak on behalf of our founding fathers, but we can say that this is what many people believe. That UMNO now is probably not what the founding fathers intended it to be.

Dato’ Saifuddin agreed too. As the CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, he actually discussed how the founding fathers were liberals. Like you know, not conservative! In the past, we’ve actually discussed things like conservatism and extremism in Malaysia so it’s a big deal to be told that Malaysia’s founding fathers were actually the opposite!

“If you look at the founding leaders of UMNO, Onn Ja’afar, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr. Ismail, they were actually liberal, and progressive at the same time.” – Dato’ Saifuddin

Dun believe? Dato’ Saifuddin said that the word ‘liberal’ (and ‘progresif’ also!) can even be found in our Rukun Negara. Don’t need to go and check, we got picture below.

rukun negara liberal progresif

Image from

And after hearing all this, we were just tempted to ask them this. Would Tunku Abdul Rahman be able to make it to the top if he were to join UMNO today?

“I don’t think he has the money. And even if he did, he wouldn’t use it anyway.” – Dato’ Saifuddin

Tunku Mahathir

Photo from Tan Sri Kadir’s office.



So is UMNO a gone case now?

Once again, the two of them differed in their opinions on this. We mentioned earlier that Tan Sri Kadir said that UMNO is rotten to the core. He also added that everything in UMNO now is about money. Money is used to buy votes and they talk about it openly as if nothing is wrong with that.

His dissatisfaction with UMNO eventually led to him leaving the party after 56 years with the party and starting his own political party. On his side, he definitely does not see a future for UMNO.

kadir ikatan launch

Which led him to forming his own party. Photo from The Malaysian Insider.

But the same cannot be said for Dato’ Saifuddin who still believes that there is still hope for UMNO.

“I won’t say they have lost the plot totally, but I think the script is poorly written.  UMNO’s fundamentals are still there, they still protect the Malay rights and protect the position of Islam. The problem is they haven’t scripted it well to be in sync with today’s realities.” – Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah

In other words, UMNO has not adapted to the current day and age. And to do so, he believes that UMNO needs to do a few things.

  1. Allow direct membership to Barisan National, not just the component parties because people are now moving away from race based politics.
  2. Start a tradition of debating on policies.
  3. Allow the Electoral Commission to be independent, so as to not allow themselves to be complacent.

And if they don’t do all these? Well Dato’ Saifuddin says they can still win GE14 but they will probably not survive GE15.


But who can the country turn to if not UMNO and BN?

We just got itchy la with this. We asked both of them that in the event that the country can no longer depend on UMNO, is there anyone else that we can turn to. (Because the opposition isn’t doing too well either.) Here are who the 2 ex-ministers would vote for.

Tun Kadir would vote for…

musa hitam

Tun Musa Hitam. Photo from

“If you ask me, one of the best person to lead this country is Tun Musa Hitam. Until today, he is clean, he is liberal, and he is simple. He would have been the best person to take over from Tun Dr. Mahathir.” – Tan Sri Kadir

Tun Musa Hitam was the first Deputy Prime Minister of Tun Mahathir (and first to get fired, as we covered in our previous article). But Musa didn’t get the chance after he spoke up against cronyism and those people who terasa ganged up on him to have him removed. He retired from politics soon after, and has been pretty quiet as far as we can tell.


Datuk Saifuddin would vote for…

“There is a dire need of some kind of alternative leadership, a group of people, not necessarily political in nature. It could be from the civil society, it could be a mix of activists or corporate people. But a group of people trying to seriously provide that kind of direction. And that direction is not necessarily about this group going into politics or standing as candidates in GE14.

But really, it’s for someone to say “Hey guys, let’s reset the button.”” – Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah

He actually encourages groups to rise up and continue to press both the gomen and opposition on matters of importance and in his opinion, those are the people the country that people can turn to for change. In other words, he’s asking people to be more vocal about the change they want to see.

So when The Economist mentions that our PM, and UMNO, may still remain in power if only for a lack of a proper opposition, they might be right. It’s hard for everyone to agree on one person that could save the country.

But maybe it isn’t a question of one person (cos some would call that a dictatorship), but the idealogy that should arise from people like you, who are reading this article, to be active enough to care about the country, and berjuang for what’s right.

Kinda like what UMNO might’ve been like, in the earlier days of Malaysia.


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