United Malays National Organisation

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Asia

The United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO, ( Malay: Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu), is the largest political party in Malaysia and a founding member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country uninterruptedly since its independence. It is known for being a major proponent of Malay nationalism or the ketuanan Melayu and some Islamic ideology, which holds that the Malay people and other Muslims are the "definitive" people of Malaysia and thus deserve special privileges as their birthright.

Early history

After the British returned to Malaya in the aftermath of World War II, the Malayan Union was formed. However, the Union was met with much opposition due to its constitutional framework, which allegedly threatened Malay sovereignty over Malaya. A series of Malay congresses were held, culminating in the formation of UMNO on May 11, 1946 at the Third Malay Congress in Johor Bahru, with Datuk Onn Jaafar as its head. UMNO strongly opposed the Malayan Union, but originally did not seek political power. In 1949, after the Malayan Union had been replaced by the semi-autonomous Federation of Malaya, UMNO shifted its focus to politics and governance.

In 1951, Onn Jaafar left UMNO after failing to open its membership to non-Malay Malayans to form the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP). Tunku Abdul Rahman replaced Dato' Onn as UMNO President. That same year, the Radical Party won the first election in Malaya — the George Town municipal council election — claiming six out of the nine seats available. However, the following year, UMNO formed an agreement with the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to avoid contesting the same seats in the Kuala Lumpur municipal council elections. UMNO and MCA eventually carried nine out of the twelve seats, dealing a crushing blow to the IMP. After several other successes in local council elections, the coalition was formalised as an "Alliance" in 1954.

In 1954, state elections were held. In these elections, the Alliance won 226 of the 268 seats nationwide. In the same year, a Federal Legislative Council was formed, comprising 100 seats. 52 would be elected, and the rest would be appointed by the British High Commissioner. The Alliance demanded that 60 of the seats be elected, but despite the Tunku flying out to London to negotiate, the British held firm. Elections for the council were held in 1955, and the Alliance, which had now expanded to include the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), issued a manifesto stating its goals of achieving independence by 1959, requiring a minimum of primary school education for all children, protecting the rights of the Malay rulers as constitutional monarchs, ending the Communist emergency, and reforming the civil service through the hiring of more Malayans as opposed to foreigners.

When the results were released, it emerged that the Alliance had won 51 of the 52 seats contested, with the other seat going to PAS (the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party, a group of Islamists that split from UMNO). The Tunku became the first Chief Minister of Malaya.

Throughout this period, the Malayan Emergency had been on-going. The Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA), supported by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), committed acts of terror such as tearing down farms, disrupting transportation and communication networks, attacking police stations, and so forth. Their stated goal was the end of colonialism in Malaya. The British declared the MCP, along with several left-wing political groups, illegal in 1948. In 1955, the Alliance government together with the British High Commissioner declared an amnesty for the communist insurgents who surrendered. Representatives from the Alliance government also met with leaders of the MCP in an attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully, as their manifesto in the election stated. Chin Peng, the MCP Secretary-General, insisted that the MCP be allowed to contest elections and be declared a legal political party as a pre-condition to laying down arms. However, the Tunku rejected this, leading to an impasse.

In 1956, the Tunku led a group of negotiators, comprising Alliance politicians and representatives of the Malay rulers, to London. There, they brokered a deal with the British for independence. The date of independence was set as August 31, 1957, on the condition that an independent commission be set up to draft a constitution for the country. The Alliance government was also required to avoid seizing British and other foreign assets in Malaya. A defence treaty would also be signed.

The Reid Commission, led by Lord William Reid, was formed to draft the constitution. Although enshrining concepts such as federalism and a constitutional monarchy, the proposed constitution also contained controversial statements protecting special rights for the Malays, such as quotas in admission to higher education and the civil service, and making Islam the official religion of the federation. It also made Malay the official language of the nation, although the right to vernacular education in Chinese and Tamil would be protected. Although the Tunku and the Malay rulers had asked the Reid Commission to ensure that "in an independent Malaya all nationals should be accorded equal rights, privileges and opportunities and there must not be discrimination on grounds of race and creed," the Malay privileges, which many in UMNO backed, were cited as necessary by the Reid Commission as a form of affirmative action that would eventually be phased out. These controversial measures were included as Articles 3, 152 and 153 of the Constitution.

As expected, independence was declared by the Tunku in Merdeka Stadium on August 31, 1957, marking a transition into a new era of Malayan and Malaysian politics.

Independence, Malaysia and May 13

In the 1959 general elections, Malaya's first, the Alliance coalition led by UMNO won 51.8% of the votes, resulting in 74 out of 104 seats, enough for an absolute two-thirds majority in Parliament, which would not only allow them to form the government again but amend the constitution at will. However, for the Alliance, the election was marred by internal strife when MCA leader Lim Chong Eu demanded his party be allowed to contest 40 of the 104 seats available. When the Tunku rejected this, Lim and his supporters resigned, many of them running in the election as independents, which cost the Alliance some seats.

In 1961, the Tunku mooted the idea of forming "Malaysia", which would consist of Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, all of which were then British colonies. The reasoning behind this was that this would allow the central government to control and combat communist activities, especially in Singapore. It was also feared that if Singapore achieved independence, it would become a base for Chinese chauvinists to threaten Malayan sovereignty. To balance out the ethnic composition of the new nation, the other states, whose Malay and indigenous populations would balance out the Singaporean Chinese majority, were also included.

After much negotiation, a constitution was hammered out. Some minor changes had been made — for instance, the Malay privileges were now made available to all " Bumiputra", a group comprising the Malays and other indigenous peoples of Malaysia. However, the new states were also granted some autonomy unavailable to the original nine states of Malaya. After negotiations in July 1963, it was agreed that Malaysia would come into being on August 31, 1963, consisting of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Brunei pulled out after Parti Rakyat Brunei staged an armed revolt, which, though it was put down, was viewed as potentially destabilising to the new nation.

The Philippines and Indonesia strenously objected to this development, with Indonesia claiming Malaysia represented a form of neocolonialism and the Philippines claiming Sabah as its territory. The United Nations sent a commission to the region which approved the merger after having delayed the date of Malaysia's formation to investigate. Despite further protests from the Indonesian President, Sukarno, the formation of Malaysia was proclaimed on September 16, 1963. Indonesia then declared a " confrontation" with Malaysia, sending commandos to perform guerilla attacks in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). The confrontation was ended when a military coup replaced Sukarno with Suharto. The Philippines, which had withdrawn diplomatic recognition from Malaysia, also recognised Malaysia around the same time.

To reflect the change of name to Malaysia, UMNO's coalition partners promptly altered their names to the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress. Several political parties in East Malaysia, especially Sarawak, also joined the Alliance to allow it to contest elections there.

In the 1963 Singapore state elections, the Alliance decided to challenge Lee Kuan Yew's governing People's Action Party (PAP) through the Singapore Alliance Party. UMNO politicians actively campaigned in Singapore for the Singapore Alliance, contending that the Singapore Malays were being treated as second-class citizens under the Chinese-dominated but multiracial PAP government. However, all of the UMNO-backed Malay candidates lost to PAP candidates. Angered, UMNO Secretary-General Syed Jaafar Albar travelled to Singapore to address the Malay populace. At one rally, he called the PAP Malay politicians un-Islamic and traitors to the Malay race, greatly straining PAP-UMNO relations. The PAP politicians, who saw this as a betrayal of an earlier agreement with the Alliance not to contest elections in Malaysia and Singapore respectively, decided on running on the mainland in the 1964 general election. Although the PAP contested nine Parliamentary seats and attracted large crowds at its rallies, it won only one seat. Nevertheless, UMNO leaders were furious.

The strain in race relations caused by the communal lines along which the political factions had been drawn led to the 1964 Race Riots in Singapore. PAP Malay politician Othman Wok later insinuated that the riot had been planned beforehand by Malay " ultras".

Alliance leaders were also alarmed at Lee's behaviour, which they considered unseemly for the Chief Minister of a state; to them, he was acting as if he was the Prime Minister of a sovereign nation. Finance Minister Tan Siew Sin of the MCA labelled Lee as the "greatest, disruptive force in the entire history of Malaysia and Malaya." Lee now seemed determined to press forward politically and continue contesting elections nationwide, with the formation of the Malaysian Solidarity Convention — a coalition of political parties which called for a " Malaysian Malaysia" as opposed to one with Bumiputra privileges. The spirit of this argument was stated by Lee in Parliament: "Malaysia — to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian."

Fed up, the Tunku decided to ask Singapore to secede. After much persuasion in the Singapore cabinet, it was agreed, with Singapore declaring independence on August 9, 1965. Lee broke down in tears at a press conference announcing secession, and the Tunku opened his speech in Parliament with the words, "In all the 10 years of my leadership of this House I have never had a duty so unpleasant as this to perform. The announcement which I am making concerns the separation of Singapore from the rest of the Federation." After the separation and independence of Singapore in 1965, the Singapore branch of UMNO was renamed the Singapore Malay National Organisation (Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura).

After Singapore's expulsion from the Federation, UMNO focused on continuing its policies which would benefit the Malays. One such contentious one involved the Malay language, which was the official language of Malaysia. UMNO sought to more strongly enforce this, and reduce the reliance on English in government affairs. In this, it was aided by PAS, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which backed special rights for the Bumiputra, and the strengthening of Islam's position in public affairs. However, the PAP's Malaysian branch, which had now become a full-fledged party in its own right as the Democratic Action Party (DAP), took a strong stance against this, and continued calls for a "Malaysian Malaysia", arguing that Bumiputra "special rights" had only benefited the Malay elite while ignoring the rural poor. In 1968, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia or plain Gerakan, led by Lim Chong Eu, joined the DAP in protesting the Bumiputra rights as well.

Matters came to a head in the 1969 general election. When polling closed on the mainland peninsula (West Malaysia) on May 10, it emerged the Alliance had won less than half of the popular vote, although it was assured of 66 out of 104 Parliamentary seats available. Much of the losses came from the MCA, straining relations between the two parties. However, the Alliance was dealt an even larger blow on the state level, losing control of Kelantan, Perak, and Penang.

Selangor — whose Chief Minister, Harun Idris, was perceived as among the most radical Malay extremists in calling for special rights — also saw its State Assembly evenly divided between the government and opposition. To celebrate, the DAP and Gerakan staged a march throughout the federal capital of Kuala Lumpur in Selangor. Harun organised a counter-rally on May 13 which saw Malays gathered from all over the state, armed with parangs ( machetes) and other weapons. Harun and other UMNO politicians lambasted the opposition for their "insults" and challenging Malay supremacy in government, and stated the counter-rally would "teach the Chinese a lesson". The rally erupted into a full-fledged riot, with armed Malays looting and burning Chinese shops and homes. The Chinese soon fought back, raising the tension. When the police arrived, they were outnumbered by the rioters, and were forced to call in army units for aid. The predominantly Malay soldiers reportedly concentrated on controlling the Chinese rioters. The riot lasted for two days, despite the imposition of a nationwide curfew. At least 178 were killed in the riot, although some sources have placed the figure in the proximity of 1,000 dead.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) declared a national emergency after being advised by the national government. Parliament was suspended, with a National Operations Council (NOC) led by Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak of UMNO, taking over the government. Further polling in East Malaysia as a continuation of the general election was also postponed indefinitely. Although the Cabinet still met under the Tunku as Prime Minister, his role was largely symbolic, with Tun Razak taking over the role of chief executive.

UMNO backbencher Mahathir bin Mohamad, who had lost his Parliamentary seat in the election, wrote a scathing letter to the Tunku, criticising his leadership. Mahathir stated Mahathir had given "the Chinese what they demand...you have given them too much face. The responsibility for the deaths of this people, Muslims and infidels, must be shouldered by [you]." Mahathir organised a campaign with University of Malaya lecturer Raja Muktaruddin Daim to oust the Tunku, circulating his letter among the student body of local universities. Mass demonstrations broke out, with Malay students calling for a restoration of "Malay sovereignty" and the Tunku's oustre. Mahathir also demanded a one-party autocracy under UMNO, without an elected Parliament. The non-Malay community responded by boycotting Malay business establishments.

After rioting broke out in June, Home Affairs Minister Ismail Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak agreed to expel Mahathir and former Executive Secretary of UMNO Musa Hitam from the party for breaching party discipline. Ismail issued a statement saying "These ultras believe in the wild and fantastic theory of absolute dominion by one race over the other communities, regardless of the Constitution... Polarization has taken place in Malaysian politics and the extreme racialists among the ruling party are making a desperate bid to topple the present leadership." Nevertheless, the Tunku appeared to devote less time to domestic affairs and began making frequent diplomatic excursions.

The question of whether to restore Parliamentary democracy was considered by the NOC; some radical members of UMNO such as Mahathir demanded the NOC govern on its own permanently, without Parliament. Sources indicate the Tunku and Ismail favoured restoring Parliament as soon as possible, while Tun Razak vacillated, eventually agreeing with them, provided that more aggressive affirmative action policies be implemented. The suspended elections in East Malaysia were held in 1970, and gave the Alliance government a solid two-thirds majority in Parliament again. On August 31 that year, the Tunku announced the national ideology — Rukunegara — and his planned retirement as Prime Minister in favour of Tun Razak. He also stated Parliament would be restored the following year.

Before Parliament was restored, the UMNO-led NOC illegalised discussion on the topic of abolishing the portions of the Constitution dealing with Malay rights. The immunity granted to Members of Parliament (MPs) that effectively allowed them to speak on any topic without fear of arrest was also denied, with the amended Sedition Act covering all public discussions. When Parliament reconvened in 1971, Tun Razak justified these amendments (which had to be passed by Parliament) by stating: "Shall we return to...when, in the name of democracy and freedom of speech, irresponsible elements were at liberty to foment and exploit racial emotions until we were brought to the very brink of national disintegration?" UMNO MPs strongly backed the amendments, and they were eventually passed by a vote of 125 to 17, with the DAP and People's Progressive Party (PPP) MPs dissenting.

The New Economic Policy

After Tun Razak succeeded the Tunku in 1970, he began asserting UMNO's leadership in the Alliance more strongly. When the Tunku led the coalition, he had always consulted Alliance leaders regarding policy — if an Alliance leader objected, the policy was not passed. Under Tun Razak, UMNO was the base of the Alliance and thus the government. The NOC which he led until Parliament reconvened consisted of 7 Malays, one Chinese and one Indian; likewise, the only major post in his Cabinet held by a non-Malay was that of the MCA's Tan Siew Sin, who was Finance Minister. Most non-Malay leaders in the Alliance under Tun Razak were appointed to Deputy Ministerial posts, which are not Cabinet-level.

In Tun Razak's cabinet, the two most powerful men other than him were Ismail Abdul Rahman and Ghazali Shafie, who had declared the Westminster-style Parliamentary system inappropriate for Malaysia. Tun Razak also readmitted to the party "ultras" who had been expelled, like Mahathir and Musa Hitam. Mahathir gained notoriety after his expulsion from UMNO by authoring The Malay Dilemma, a book promptly banned from Malaysia, which posited that the Malays are the definitive people of Malaysia, and thus deserved special rights as the sovereign people of the nation. It also controversially argued that the Malays needed affirmative action to overcome deficiencies in their genetic stock.

Hussein Onn, son of UMNO founder Dato' Onn Ja'afar, soon became a rising star in UMNO. After Ismail died suddenly of a heart attack in 1973, Hussein Onn succeeded him as Deputy Prime Minister. In the Cabinet reshuffle that promoted Hussein Onn, Mahathir was given the key post of Education Minister.

The Tun Razak government announced the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971. Its stated goal was to "eventually eradicate poverty...irrespective of race" through a "rapidly expanding economy" which would reduce the non-Malay share of the economy in relative terms, while increasing it in absolute terms; the net "losses" of the non-Malays would go to the Malays, who held only 1.5% of the economy at the time of the May 13 riots. The NEP targeted a 30 per cent Malay share of the economy by 1990. The government contended that this would lead to a "just society" ("Masyarakat Adil"), the latter slogan being used to promote acceptance of the policy. Quotas in education and the civil service that the Constitution had explicitly provided for were expanded by the NEP, which also mandated government interference in the private sector. For instance, 30% of all shares in initial public offerings (IPOs) would be disbursed by the government to selected Bumiputra (most of which are Malay). The old civil service hiring quota of 4 Malays for every non-Malay was effectively disregarded in practice; between 1969 and 1973, 98% of all new government employees were Malay. Five new universities were opened under the NEP, two of which were explicitly targeted at the Malays and Muslims; at least one ( Universiti Teknologi Mara) remains open only to Bumiputra as of 2006. 90% of government scholarships for studying abroad were awarded to Malays. Hiring quotas in the private sector were also enforced.

Tun Razak also began shoring up the government by bringing in several former opposition parties into the fold of the Alliance. Gerakan, PPP, PAS, and several former opposition parties in East Malaysia joined the coalition, which was renamed as the Barisan Nasional (National Front, abbreviated as BN). BN was formally registered as an organisation in 1974, the same year in which a general election was held.

There had been much internal conflict in BN regarding the election; in 1973, Lim Keng Yaik and several supporters of his aggressive pro-Chinese stance, left the MCA for Gerakan. This contributed to internal strife, as the MCA was no longer the sole representative of Chinese interests in BN.

The 1974 election was the first under which the national capital, Kuala Lumpur, was represented as a Federal Territory instead of as a part of Selangor. Critics argued this was effectively a gerrymander giving BN an advantage over the DAP, which had strong support from the urban population. The DAP and a Gerakan offshoot (Pekemas) which had opposed merger with BN were the government's principal opposition, and leaders from both parties called on voters to deny BN a 2/3rds Parliamentary majority. However, their campaigning was stifled due to restrictions prohibiting them from discussing abolition of Malay privileges. The eventual results gave the government 135 out of 154 seats in Parliament.

Discontent among student organisations in Malaysian universities soon posed a new problem for the UMNO-led government, however. Mahathir in his capacity as Education Minister issued a stern warning to university students and faculty not to become involved in politics. However, amidst allegations that farmers in rural states were starving due to government policies, massive student demonstrations were held in December 1974. Most of the demonstrators were Malays, and their ringleaders, which included Anwar Ibrahim — founder of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (the Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia, or ABIM) — were detained under the Internal Security Act, which effectively allows the government to detain anyone it sees as a threat to national security for an indefinite period. In 1975, Parliament passed amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which banned students from expressing support of or holding positions in any political party or trade union without written consent from the university's Vice Chancellor. The act also banned political demonstrations from being held on university campuses. In 1976, however, mass demonstrations were held at the MARA Institute of Technology, protesting the UUCA. Mahathir then threatened to revoke the scholarships of the students, most of whom relied on public support to pay their way through university.

BN was also challenged in Sarawak after the 1974 election, which saw the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) led by James Wong become tied with the DAP as the most important opposition party in Parliament, both of them holding nine seats each. SNAP had campaigned against BN on a platform of opposing Chief Minister Abdul Rahman Ya'akub's pro-Malay policies, charging them with alienating the rural indigenous natives of Sarawak, such as the Iban. SNAP had been expelled from the Alliance in 1965 for supporting increased autonomy for Sarawak. After the election results were released, Abdul Rahman ordered the detention of James Wong under the Sedition Act. SNAP elected a new leader, Leo Moggie, who secured the release of Wong and the entry of SNAP into BN in 1976. However, SNAP's role in the Sarawak government was markedly reduced; whereas it had once held the post of Chief Minister, its leaders were now allocated minor government posts.

In Sabah, the Alliance and then BN controlled the state government through the United Sabah National Organization (USNO), which strongly backed UMNO's pro-Malay and pro-Islam policies. In 1973, Islam was made the official Sabah state religion (the official religion of Sabah was originally Christianity, as permitted by the agreement signed before the merger), and usage of indigenous languages such as those of the Kadazan people was discontinued in favour of the Malay language. The USNO Chief Minister, Mustapha Harun, was also known for favouring political patronage as a means of allocating valuable timber contracts, and living an extravagant lifestyle, being ferried to his A$1 million Queensland home by jets provided with Sabahan public funds.

In the 1974 election, Pekemas attempted to contest, eventually winning almost 40% of the vote. However, it failed to win any Parliamentary or State Assembly seats, with USNO holding onto the state government.

UMNO's share of votes has steadily declined since the Islamic party's (PAS) emergence onto the political scene in the 1990 general elections.

In the 1999 general election, rocked by the arrest and trial of former UMNO deputy Anwar Ibrahim and the subsequent formation of the Barisan Alternatif opposition coalition, UMNO's share dipped to 54% of the vote and 102 out of 144 seats despite allegations of vote-rigging. But in 2004 general election, UMNO had a landslide victory and almost recaptured Kelantan which has been ruled by the Opposition since 1990. This win is the biggest since Independence in 1957.

The Alliance (now known as the Barisan Nasional) has constantly maintained its 2/3rds majority in Parliament since 1969.

UMNO Baru (New UMNO)

On 24 April 1987, UMNO held its Annual General Assembly and triennial Party election. The then Prime Minister and party President, Mahathir Mohamad, faced his first party election in 12 years, having been elected unopposed every time since the 1975 UMNO election.

The politics of the Malays, particularly UMNO politics, had undergone a sea change in the first few years of the Mahathir stewardship, and the incumbent party president was challenged for the second time in 41 years. The first challenge had been a dull affair in which Hussein Onn had been opposed by a minor party official named Sulaiman Palestin. (Another President, Tunku Abdul Rahman had also been challenged by one C. M. Yusof, later Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, in the early 1950s, but the Tunku was then only the care-taker President and not properly the incumbent.)

The 1987 contest was a vastly different matter. Mahathir was opposed by his very popular former Finance Minister, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. The press took to referring to Mahathir and his supporters as Team A, and Razaleigh's camp as Team B. Team B included then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam, who was also the incumbent Deputy President of UMNO seeking re-election, as well as Datuk Suhaimi Kamaruddin, the former head of UMNO Youth and president of the Belia 4B youth organisation.

Team B was critical of Mahathir's policies, arguing that the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) had failed to benefit the poor Malays. It also criticised Mahathir's leadership style, alleging he acted unilaterally without consulting other leaders in UMNO and the Barisan Nasional. Team B was also perceived as less Islamist than Mahathir's faction.

Mahathir claimed that the charges against him were groundless, and suggested that his opponents were fracturing Malay unity and were only motivated by greed.

Eventually, Mahathir was returned to office. However, he was elected with such a small majority of 43 (761 against 718 votes) that questions were immediately raised about his mandate. Team B supporters, many of whom had been anticipating a victory of similar margins, suspected that the election had been fixed. The Team B candidate for Deputy President, Musa Hitam, had also been defeated by Ghafar Baba of Team A, while two of the three Vice-Presidents were Team A candidates. The Supreme Council comprised 16 Team A candidates and 9 Team B candidates.

Allegations were made that several delegates who had voted were drawn from UMNO branches not properly registered. There were also several unproved allegations being bandied about that the balloting process had not been above board.

Nevertheless, Razaleigh pledged to support Mahathir, provided that a "witch hunt" was not launched. However, Mahathir promptly purged the government cabinet of all Team B members, and launched similar reshuffles in state and local governments.

On 25 June 1987, an appeal was filed by 12 of the UMNO delegates (one of whom, Hussain bin Manap, withdrew unexpectedly in August) to have the assembly and the election of April 1987 declared null. The remaining litigants have since become famous as the "UMNO 11." Although Razaleigh and Musa Hitam were not among the plaintiffs, it was widely believed that Razaleigh was funding the appeal.

After a series of interlocutory hearings over the discovery of documents that took more than seven months, the matter finally came before Justice Harun Hashim in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 4 February 1988. The judge ruled that under the existing law he had no option but to find the party, UMNO, to be an unlawful society due to the existence of several unregistered branches — an illegal act under the Societies Act of 1966. The question of the Assembly itself being illegal therefore became academic.

"'It is a very hard decision to declare UMNO unlawful,' said Justice Datuk Harun Hashim in his 4 February judgement. 'But the law was made by our Parliament and certainly UMNO was aware [of the Societies Act] because they were in the majority [in Parliament] at all times [when the law was made].' Under the 1966 Act, amended five times over the years, and most recently by Mahathir's government, each of the society's branches has to register separately with the Registrar...."

The Tunku and former UMNO President Hussein Onn set up a new party called UMNO Malaysia, which claimed to be the successor to the old UMNO. UMNO Malaysia was supported mainly by members of the Team B faction from UMNO, but Mahathir was also invited to join the party leadership. However, the party collapsed after the Registrar of Societies refused to register it as a society (without providing an explanation).

Mahathir showed no interest in reviving UMNO, and instead he set in motion the machinery to form a new surrogate party, and in due course, registered a party formally called Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (Baru) or UMNO (New) a week after UMNO Malaysia's registration was rejected. Eventually the suffix "(New)" was dropped, and UMNO (Baru) became both the de facto and de jure successor of UMNO (with the old UMNO's assets handed over). Most of its leaders, however, were selected from Team A of the old UMNO, with Team B ignored.


After Mahathir stepped down as President of UMNO in 2003, he was replaced by his designated successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who by virtue of his new position also became Prime Minister of Malaysia. The new Deputy President, Najib Tun Razak — the son of Tun Abdul Razak — was selected by Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, UMNO has undergone a number of crises, most notably in 2006 when Mahathir began actively confronting Abdullah about his policies, and campaigned for a position as a delegate to the national UMNO assembly so he could earn the right to speak at the floor of the assembly.

UMNO remains a strong influence on Malaysian politics; a number have charged that "it is UMNO which wields real power" in Malaysia, instead of the Barisan Nasional coalition government. Because allegations of corruption have tainted the government, some commentators have suggested that "reckless Umno members who have become poster boys of excess, insensitivity and the faux pas are seen as the manifestation of what is wrong and has gone wrong in a Malay-dominated government."


UMNO sees itself as representing the Malays and Muslims of Malaysia, although any Bumiputra (indigenous Malaysian, a category which includes people such as the non-Malay and usually non-Muslim Kadazan, Iban, Dayak, etc. of East Malaysia) may join the party. UMNO is generally regarded as the "protector and champion of ketuanan Melayu" (Malay supremacy), which states that Malays are the rulers of Malaysia or "masters of this land", as stated by former UMNO Youth Information Chief Azimi Daim in 2003.

In 2004, some delegates at the UMNO Youth assembly went as far as to propose a resolution that anyone who left UMNO would be a "traitor to UMNO and a traitor to the Malay race". Although targeted at people like former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the resolution was eventually withdrawn because it would have declared party personages such as its founder, Dato' Onn Jaafar, and the first Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, as traitors to the party and the Malay race. When the Tunku became UMNO President, he expressed worry about potential lack of loyalty among non-Malays to Malaya, and insisted this be clarified before they given citizenship. He also insisted that the British return sovereignty of Malaya to the Malays. However, parts of his speech would also have clashed with ketuanan Melayu, as he stated that "For those who love and feel they owe undivided loyalty to this country, we will welcome them as Malayans. They must truly be Malayans, and they will have the same rights and privileges as the Malays."

The Youth wing in particular is known for what some call radical and extremist defense of ketuanan Melayu; one opposition journalist has contended that all UMNO Youth leaders were "perceived as pro-Malay, anti-Chinese in their days". One oft-cited instance of this is a rally held by UMNO Youth shortly before Ops Lallang in 1987, where future Deputy Prime Minister and then UMNO Youth Chief Najib Razak threatened to bathe a keris (dagger) with Chinese blood. At the same rally, banners were hoisted carrying phrases such as "revoke the citizenship of those who opposed the Malay rulers", "May 13 has begun" (referring to the May 13 racial riots in 1969), and "soak it (the keris) with Chinese blood".

In 2005, UMNO Youth Chief Hishammuddin Hussein brandished the keris at the UMNO Annual General Meeting (AGM) while decrying critics of Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia and the social contract. Both Article 153 and the social contract preserve special privileges for the Malays.

However, more mature politicians occasionally make controversial statements as well; at the 2004 AGM, party Deputy Permanent Chairman Badruddin Amiruldin waved a book on the May 13 riots while warning non-Malays not to stir a "hornets' nest" and cautioning, "Let no one from the other races ever question the rights of Malays on this land."

The 2006 UMNO Annual General Assembly was noted for controversial statements made by several delegates, such as Hashim Suboh, who asked Hishammuddin when he would "use" the keris; Hishammuddin had again brandished the keris at the assembly that year. The assembly was the first to have its entire proceedings televised in full. Several delegates raised the issue of the Malay Agenda, and called for greater enforcement of the NEP. In response to concerns over the racial rhetoric, Vice President Muhyiddin Yassin said that "Although some sides were a bit extreme [this year], it is quite normal to voice feelings during the assembly." The Deputy Chief of the Youth wing, Khairy Jamaluddin, insisted that "while there is nothing extraordinary about this year’s congress and that similar sentiments have been raised in the past, these feelings have never compromised the ultimate manifestation of governance in this country through BN’s power-sharing formula." Hishammuddin also defended the delegates' actions, saying that events earlier in the year related to the status of Islam in Malaysia and the NEP had "played on the Malay psyche. If they had not been allowed to release their feelings in a controlled channel, it could have been even worse." He defended his usage of the keris, saying it was meant "to motivate the Malays" and that it "is here to stay", denying that it was a symbol of Malay supremacy ( ketuanan Melayu).

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