Vital for Barisan to stay in tune with middle class: Musa Hitam

MALAYSIA - The Malaysian middle class is "no pushover", and the Barisan Nasional-led government needs to seriously address its concerns such as corruption and misuse of power, said the country's former deputy premier Tun Musa Hitam.

"When Malaysians are critical, it shouldn't be dismissed as them being destructive or negative. We should respect them. The middle class today thinks very differently, and the challenge for the leadership is that it should be one step ahead but it has not even kept up," he said.

"That is the problem. We (the government) have provided education to them, but yet, we've become less educated and haven't changed our mindset," he said.

Mr Musa spoke to The Straits Times in an interview given after a media briefing in Singapore on Thursday to announce the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) gathering in London in October this year. He is WIEF's chairman.

In recent years, Malaysians have become considerably more vocal about their social, economic and political views and their demands of the government.

Their disenchantment, particularly in the cities, can be gleaned from the outcome of the general election in May - BN was able to remain in power, but a significant chunk of the urban middle-class votes went to the opposition.

Mr Musa, 79, who mostly avoids commenting publicly on politics but campaigned for BN at the recent polls in his home state of Johor, also unflinchingly opined that the top Umno posts should be open for contest as that was in keeping with the basic principles of democracy.

"The argument that if you contest, it will divide the party, is nonsense," he said bluntly. "That is merely a political argument that serves the incumbents or those who worry about their positions," he said in response to questions about whether the top posts in Umno ought to be challenged during the much-anticipated party polls at the year-end.

This year's polls are crucial as they will decide the future of Malaysia's leadership. Currently at the helm is party president Prime Minister Najib Razak. His deputy is Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who many perceive to be one of the challengers for Umno's presidency.

Mr Musa was the country's DPM and Umno's deputy president between 1981 and 1986, when Tun Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister.

The articulate and generally well-liked former politician stepped down from his DPM post after a fallout with Dr Mahathir. Except for a brief, failed attempt to return to politics shortly after, Mr Musa walked away from the political arena and has remained out of it.

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