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Can a youthful rebranding of BN work?

Barisan Nasional, according to an 11 June 2014 report by The Malaysian Insider, is seeking to detoxify its brand.

It proposes to do this, the Insider alleges, by recruiting, for a start, 10 young professional Malaysians to join the BN directly. This group will act as spokespersons for the BN-led federal government on issues like the GST and others.

They will apparently give up their full-time jobs and receive salaries from BN. The overall goal is purportedly to create an alternative, more moderate face for BN. On the surface, this — assuming the Insider report is true — seems like quite a good idea for BN and Malaysian politics in general.

The right-wing lurch of Umno on racial and religious issues has done a lot to poison communal relations in Malaysia, to say nothing of BN’s own credibility as a multiracial force.
At the same time, it gives BN another stab at setting up a successor to the Alliance Direct Membership Organisation (Admo), i.e., to let Malaysians “join” BN without having to become a member of one of its race-based component parties.

Moreover, it’s never a bad thing in the long run when young people are encouraged to take part in politics. Heaven knows, BN could use more new, young faces.

Khairy Jamaluddin is certainly no spring chicken.

But as with so many other things involving BN, there’s likely to be a big dissonance between rhetoric and reality. Like it or not, BN, and more importantly, Umno, are extremely hierarchal parties.

Its long incumbency has made it essentially an oligarchy that is very hesitant, if not outright hostile to change, whether in the country or within their own parties.

Indeed, there have been allegations that younger and independent-minded figures have had their careers sabotaged in BN.

I’m not just referring to Anwar Ibrahim.

Khairy himself, in his 2010 general assembly speech, noted that many young people had to wait for years to join Umno due to red tape or even outright sabotage by existing leaders.

Alright, maybe I’m nit-picking here. Let’s say this group of young BN leaders do get in and are given a realistic role in the coalition.

Will the Malay right wing that Umno has enabled acquiesce to their agenda? The record doesn’t look good.

Conservative Umno members, as well as their NGO surrogates, have previously shot down very good ideas — which ironically originated from BN leaders themselves.

Other Umno/BN leaders have also been vilified and cowed into silence when they spoke out against the growing racism and intolerance in this country.

What guarantees can be given that this new young group of professionals will be spared a similar fate?

One must also question the notion that this group will be paid to act as spokespersons.

There’s nothing wrong with professional politicians, of course. But if this new group truly cared about BN and Malaysia, shouldn’t the chance to serve be a reward in and of itself?

Indeed, I think these payments would spoil the BN young professional’s credibility in the eyes of Malaysian voters.

Many party workers in Keadilan, DAP and PAS are volunteers, who get little or nothing in return for their time and labour. They work because they want a better Malaysia.

Come to think of it, if the young professionals are supposed to defend the government’s policies, why can’t the ministers and civil service do so?

Or is it simply another desperate manoeuvre from an enervated administration that is failing about to boost its popularity.

But then again, maybe I am being uncharitable. As I said earlier, it’s never hurts when young people get passionate about politics, regardless of which side of the fence they wind up on.

But this young professionals group, if it ever gets off the ground, should know what they are getting themselves into.

They should only devote their talents to causes that are worthwhile, that are worthy of them. And they should be willing to speak the truth to power all the time and every time.

Otherwise, this will just be yet another exercise in futility and a let-down for Malaysia’s youth.

Nik Nazmi ialah Ahli Parlimen Setiawangsa. Beliau juga Naib Presiden KEADILAN.

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Pusat Khidmat Rakyat Parlimen Setiawangsa
3-1, Jalan Rampai Niaga 5, Rampai Business Park, Taman Sri Rampai, 53300 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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© Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad. Hak Cipta Terpelihara.