I have lately begun to wonder how UMNO manages communal relationship within the Malaysian society at large. While the answer to the question may be obvious through casual observation, there is an intriguing piece of which I have yet to grasp; it is in the air and it eludes me. I have struggled for several days to describe that piece and the best arrangement of words I could muster is this: UMNO perceives various ethnic communities as monolithic group and it refuses or unable to accept the fact such communities are diverse and do not have one mind.

This idea sources its rationale from UMNO’s preference to discuss matters on ethnic relationship behind closed door between its own four walls with its political partners in Barisan Nasional. They would deliberate on the matter by themselves and then impose the outcome of the deliberation on the general public. From time to time, UMNO seems to force its partner to come to a conclusion favorable to UMNO at the expense of its partners. Once that is done, opinion originating from outside of BN would be dismissed as fringes and irrelevant for BN recognizes only themselves as exclusive representatives of all ethnic communities and these representatives have agreed to a conclusion or solution. Thus, UMNO and BN claim that its politics is inclusive. This is done to create the appearance that BN has the monopoly of support from all communities. In the process, the assumption of ethnic groups are monolithic in its point of view; the lack of political pluralism.

What they recognize however does not mean it is necessarily true. My disgust for such UMNO’s pretension of exclusive representation of the Malays prompted me to state that unelected representatives have no mandate to represent everybody.

Those in BN do represent some groups in the society but they certainly do not totally represent a whole community. For instance UMNO does not represent each and every Malay, just as how MCA does not represent each and every Chinese.

Despite that, perception is important. In a society of a majority with limited education level, the effect of groupthink could be substantial. Such members of the society have limited ability to think for themselves and are more than happy to let others do the thinking for them. For UMNO and BN themselves are happy to persuade that section of the society towards a communal cause via simplistic grand narrative.

While such tactics had worked in the past through tight control exerted over the mainstream media, disruptive technology has broken BN’s monopoly of information and hence, perception of monolithic society to BN and more important, to the general public. Greater proliferation of the internet along with the affordability of visual and audio recorders that disseminate information unvarnished from the bottom up, organically, instead of top down, inorganically is seriously challenging and dismantling that perception.

I wonder though whether this perception of exclusive representation is done unconsciously or on purpose by UMNO and BN.

Regardless, if UMNO and BN do not switch track, they would lose it aura of invincibility fast. The reason is ethnic communities are not monolithic entities that an official speaker could fully represent each community. There are many subgroups within each community and each has a mind of its own. The rich diversity in opinion in each community makes it impossible for the whole community to be represented by a speaker. This is especially so when UMNO tells such speakers what outcome is favorable before discussions even begin. If UMNO continues with its status quo, the representatives that BN recognizes as the exclusively representatives of a community would lose their relevance to the grassroots. Such representatives would have to represent UMNO’s wishes instead of the individuals in the communities. In the end, many subgroups in the community would be clearly not represented by BN representatives.

Similar scenario is observable in southern Thailand. The authority has tried to speak to the perceived leader of the rebellion in search for solution to the current conflict. While contacts have been made, rebel activities have yet to stop. This might due to the fact that these rebels work independently and unrepresented by any leaders the Thai authority is talking to. Like the ethnic communities in Malaysia, these rebels do not form a monolith organization which a leader or a limited circle could shape the direction of the rebellion.

In other words, the mind of the community is distributed far and wide. There is no hive with a queen that one could talk to. Furthermore, the queens recognized by UMNO and BN are not recognized by all members of the community.

In the past, BN had dealt with such plurality by overpowering it with the assumption of monolithic groups through suppression. New technology today has made such suppression less effective however. New physical and social technologies have allowed the idea of political pluralism to rule over the assumption of monolithic society.

UMNO and BN are struggling to deal with this. Judging by both’s incoherent assaults against blogs lately, it is possible that they are shaken by this new challenge of political pluralism amid the presumption of monolithic communities, among other things.

11 Responses to “[1341] Of BN’s false assumption of monolithic communities”

  1. on 20 Aug 2007 at 11:55 moo_t

    I am not surprise at all. Because UMNO and BN inherit the whole EXACT mindset from British colony master.

    To colony master, everything must be make simple for exploitation, after all, they are going back to their real home someday. So suppressing the local cultures is the first things they must do.

    Malaysia school civics course are just continue the trends. The school never teach the students to learn their surrounding. Instead, Malaysian students know more about academy than the environment.

    For non-Malay middle class, the information of such “awareness” are abundance. But for Malays, except for liberals Malays, information that states the dangerous of monolithic communities are few.

    Perhaps I should be optimistic. Chinese start learning the democracy cultures and learn to live with it for almost 60 years(examples : Taiwan). While anglo-saxon doing it for more than 200 years. Malays society only start the process 10 years ago.

  2. on 20 Aug 2007 at 21:41 johnleemk


    Aren’t you doing exactly what BN has done? You’re assuming the Chinese and Malays are monolithic communities. Taiwan may have been democratic for 60 years (a ridiculous contention, but let’s just take it as a given), but mainland China, Hong Kong, etc., have not, so your statement would only apply to Taiwanese Chinese. Likewise, some Malays have participated in democracy and championed it; for instance, I suspect you have overlooked the leftist Malay movement of the 1940s onward.

  3. on 21 Aug 2007 at 23:25 moo_t

    I think I didn’t put my sentence clear thus cause the misunderstanding. What I trying to say is, Malaysia government trying to build a monolithic communities using the “unity” propaganda. It fails to do so on Chinese society because Chinese are too diverse. While for Malays, the task is easier. Did you notice many young Malays has no idea about unique traits of Javanese, Bugis, Minangkabau,Bajau,etc? Did you notice that fanaticism is start taking root inside Malay society? Fanaticism is just a by product of monolithic communities.

  4. on 18 Dec 2007 at 01:33 We, the People : Bolehland

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  8. […] shoot him down. With Malay nationalists under post-election siege mentality and lamenting about a so-called divided Malay community, remark by the chairman of DAP was the spark that they needed to rally the Malays around […]

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