(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): It should come as no surprise that the highly-speculated Cabinet reshuffle was not discussed at the UMNO Supreme Council meeting yesterday, as this is the prerogative of the Prime Minister and there has never been any precedent in the country of any prior discussion of any impending Cabinet reshuffle either with the Cabinet or the UMNO Supreme Council.
What should be a matter of great disappointment is that the three-hour UMNO Supreme Council meeting yesterday ignored the Barisan Alternative’s invitation to the Barisan Nasional component parties on Wednesday for "national unity" talks, which would indicate that UMNO is losing out not only as the foremost Malay political party but also as the leading Malaysian political party in the country whose first and foremost concern and commitment are the larger Malaysian national interests.
Mahathir said that while UMNO does not reject the idea of talks on national unity, talks should concentrate now on Malay unity and therefore "talks on Malay unity will start first, to be followed by discussions on national integration at a later stage" - which is as good as sidelining national unity talks.
In staking out the position that Malay unity must take priority and greater importance than national unity, the Prime Minister is not only admitting the failure of the 43-year nation-building process but repudiating the Vision 2020 and Bangsa Malaysia concept which he proclaimed a decade ago.
What Mahathir and UMNO are declaring is that they are still Malays first and Malaysians second, when more and more Malaysians including Malays are regarding themselves as Malaysians first and their ethnic identities second.
It is very sad that in the fifth decade of Malaysian nation-hood and after a one-third span of the 30-year Vision 2020 and Bangsa Malaysia concept, when UMNO and Barisan Nasional leaders should be setting an example to all Malaysians that Malaysian national unity must take priority and precedence over any ethnic or sectional interests, they are doing the exact opposite.
After the recent "Malay unity" calls, there had also been echoes of "Chinese unity" and "Indian unity" calls in some Barisan Nasional quarters.
Leaving aside for the moment the anachronistic and anti-national nature of these calls, the pertinent question to be asked is whether the nation-building process in a plural society like Malaysia should be built on a citizenship bound together by common values of justice, freedom, tolerance, unity and solidarity to create a Bangsa Malaysia or to further institutionalise ethnic differences and divisions by promoting unity among the different ethnic or religious groups at the expense of national unity?
In other words, are "Malay unity" talks meant to further national unity or are they to undermine national unity by highlighting and entrenching the differences between Malays and the non-Malays in the country.
If "Malay unity" talks are meant to further national unity, then it must subserve and be subordinate to the larger national interests of promoting "national unity" and any "Malay unity" talks should only be held after "national unity" talks have been held to reach a new national consensus on the basis of building a 21st century Malaysia which addresses the many divisive issues which had undermined the nation-building process to create a Bangsa Malaysia.
Malaysians are entitled to be very concerned and disturbed if "Malay unity" talks precede "national unity" talks because this could only mean that "Malaysian unity" is secondary and subordinate to the higher objective of promoting "Malay unity" - a clear repudiation of the Bangsa Malaysia concept.
Mahathir and UMNO leadership should reconsider their decision yesterday which is a proclamation that they are Malays first and Malaysians second, and give priority to the Barisan Alternative’s invitation for "national unity" talks before pursuing the UMNO-initiated proposal of "Malay Unity" talks to demonstrate that they are in the vanguard in the Malaysian nationalist movement to create a Bangsa Malaysia to be Malaysians first and their ethnic identities second.