PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak ’s recent announcement of the government’s most recent u-turn  on legalising sports betting raises questions, once again, about Umno’s dominance within the Barisan Nasional (BN). Najib announced the Finance Ministry’s withdrawal of approval for Ascot Sports ’ sports betting licence directly after an Umno supreme council meeting on 25 June 2010.
Najib told the press the sports betting issue was raised with Umno supreme council members who unanimously supported the decision to cancel the government approval. Umno supreme council member and information chief Datuk Ahmad Maslan  later told reporters the government’s decision was also based on Umno grassroots’ strong opposition to the legalisation of sports betting.
But why was Najib’s announcement made after the Friday Umno supreme council meeting instead of after a weekly cabinet meeting? Do cabinet decisions have to be approved by the Umno supreme council? Who’s supposed to be governing the country — the BN cabinet or the Umno supreme council?
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time a major announcement was made after an Umno supreme council deliberation. In July 2006, then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  ordered the inter-faith group, Article 11 , to cease its activities after chairing an Umno supreme council meeting. The prime minister said council members had expressed utmost concern over inter-faith issues being debated by Article 11 and that the discussions could lead to tension.
Abdullah said the government had already put on hold the inter-faith commission which was actually unrelated to, but conflated with, Article 11. Hence, he announced, there should no longer be public discussion by groups like Article 11. But was Abdullah issuing the directive on a government decision as prime minister or as Umno president if he did it after an Umno supreme council meeting? Why did the party have so much power to tell the rest of nation it could no longer have freedom of expression over the issues that beleaguer us?
Similarly, was Najib representing the nation or his party when he announced his decision about the sports betting licence?
Umno’s views also often seem to take precedence over other BN component parties’ opinions. The selection of P Kamalanathan  as a compromise candidate for Hulu Selangor is one example, after MIC’s choice, Datuk G Palanivel , was rejected by the Hulu Selangor Umno division.
In 2006, then Kelana Jaya Member of Parliament Loh Seng Kok  from MCA made a bold speech in Parliament on the “imbalance” in the History syllabus and the problems non-Muslims faced in relation to places of worship. Six days later, 50 Umno Youth members reportedly paid Loh a visit at his office to protest his speech. A poster of Loh in Petaling Jaya  was also defaced two years later by unidentified vandals. Loh was not fielded by MCA in the 2008 general election and Kelana Jaya fell to Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Loh Gwo Burne .
Umno also seems to have ignored its component parties’ views on the use of “Allah ” by non-Muslims. After the High Court  reversed the Home Ministry’s ban on the use of the word by Catholic weekly Herald, MCA  issued a strong statement supporting the decision. MCA refuted a statement by Defence Minister and Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi  that usage of “Allah” by non-Muslims could be used to confuse Muslims.
Upko president and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok  also defended non-Muslims’ right to use “Allah” to refer to God. Despite these BN component parties’ views, however, the Umno-led BN government is appealing  the High Court decision.
MCA  also protested the caning of three Muslim women, a position diametrically opposed to groups within Umno. Johor Baru Umno Youth and Wanita Umno, for example, lodged a police report against the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG ) for speaking out against the caning sentence of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno . However, despite MCA’s stand, the BN government continues to maintain the right to cane Muslim women under syariah law.
And as for the sports betting licence, analyse this: How much were MCA’s  and MIC’s views taken into account? MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu  announced his support for sports betting during the day on 25 June, only to have Najib directly contradict him later that night.
Cabinet, not Umno