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Umno's 'politics of charity', still relevant after election defeat?

While some have called for an end to the practice of giving handouts in return for support, the culture may live on, say analysts.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
The Umno headquarters at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
The Umno headquarters at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The poor performance of Umno and its umbrella group Barisan Nasional (BN) in states traditionally dominated by the Malay party has brought with it questions about the survival of the so-called politics of charity long associated with the coalition, especially in rural areas. 

Such charity normally comes in the form of assistance, cash or otherwise, with the hope of eliciting the support of the people in return. 

It is also associated with a warlord culture where individual politicians maintain their wealth in order to ensure a loyal support base. 

But in the wake of BN's record poor performance which saw it winning just 30 seats across the entire country, calls have arisen from some grassroots groups for a stop to the practice. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, political observer Azizi Safar said Umno's welfare politics might no longer have a place in the hearts of voters. 

"Not many see it as an act of kindness or benevolence, as reciprocation is needed during times of election," he said. 

"Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Umno does not need to help the people, regardless of political alignment, or that it must only help its own members." 

Azizi, a former executive secretary of Penang BN, also said that a complete stop to Umno's acts of political charity would have a negative impact on the party. 

"The rest of the people who still support Umno will withdraw their support for its candidates," he said. 

Mansor Mohd Noor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) meanwhile said that welfare politics would always be relevant in identifying social imbalances. 

Mansor, of UKM's Institute of Ethnic Studies, said what the people were rejecting was instead the culture of bribes for influence and votes. 

He said the political landscape had changed, as the people were now more concerned about integrity and good governance. 

"GE14 and GE15 proved that Umno has failed to grasp the fact that the political landscape, including Malay politics, has changed," he said. 

"The Malay voters are now more cosmopolitan and progressive, and can no longer accept the culture of world-crazy leadership." 

His UKM colleague Kartini Aboo Talib said those who lose elections can still offer help sincerely if they so wish. 

"The giving of rice, diapers and hampers in appreciation of voters has become the norm, not only in Malaysia but in many countries that practise a capitalist democracy," she said, adding that the aid given should be appropriate to the needs of the people. 

Azizi however said parties that oppose Umno possess strong support even without giving handouts like diapers and hampers. 

"Maybe the voters themselves have double standards in this matter," he added. 

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