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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Agung UMNO Watershed? Battle to win the warlords over!

Watershed assembly for Umno

THIS general assembly is certain to be Umno’s last before the 13th general election, and its leaders have taken great pains to ensure members put on a good show for the whole country.

The party bosses, in the run-up to the meetings which started last night, told the delegates that they were free to speak up on any subject.

And so they should, as Umno assemblies have been noted for the freedom politicians have to speak their minds.

However, the speakers must be aware that whatever they say will reverberate far beyond Merdeka Hall at the PWTC.

From party president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, the advice has come for speakers not to say or do anything that might offend other communities.

The leaders remember the Youth-keris incident as well as the fiery speeches of the past few years which the non-Malays had found unsettling, if not threatening.

This cannot happen again if Umno wants Putrajaya to remain under Barisan Nasional. National polls are imminent, and party members must remember that whatever they do will affect Barisan’s 13 other component parties.

Every misplaced word and misconstrued action will be exploited by their political foes to the fullest to drive the non-Malay electorate away from the ruling coalition.

Najib has repeatedly said in the past few days that his 1Malaysia concept calls for “acceptance” and not just “tolerance”, and the party leadership has re-emphasised this by putting up huge billboards depicting multi-racial scenes with wordings like “Kami anak Malaysia” (We are the children of Malaysia) all over the PWTC.

This is one of Umno’s biggest efforts to reach out to the other communities.

The more than 100 speakers at the Youth, Wanita, Puteri and main party’s assemblies must also reflect this spirit of accepting all Malaysians so that the calls that their leaders make will not be seen as mere slogans.

The speakers should also pick up on the call by Najib for unpopular elected representatives to “voluntarily” bow out instead of having to be pushed out.

Umno has been, for too long, associated with warlords who refuse to give up their seats or positions that they see as theirs for life, but this will not do in today’s modern, connected world.

Voters today want to see changes and abhor politicians who overstay their welcome. Umno warlords must realise this and by voluntarily stepping down, play their part in reinventing the party, and at the same time gain the gratitude of younger members.

Malaysians of every social and political stripe will be watching this assembly and listening intently to every word each speaker makes.

Umno and Barisan Nasional will be measured, judged, punished or rewarded based on what happens in the next four days.

All political parties like to claim that their annual gatherings are important, but few can deny that this Umno assembly is a watershed that could change Malaysia’s political landscape forever.

Battle to win the warlords over


The pressing issue for Umno is to hammer home the theme that the party’s warlords, division chiefs and apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

UMNO is mobilising its grassroots to stage its annual general meeting at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur this week in a great show of choreographed pomp and colour and with members pledging party unity ahead of the most crucial battle of all, the 13th general election.

The party is set to put on the biggest show ever and the media coverage will be overwhelming; a stark contrast to its rival PKR, which just concluded its annual general meeting in Pulai Springs hotel, Johor, and whose assembly attracted less attention.

While for PKR, the debate in a nutshell centred on enemies from within, the Umno debates are expected to centre on winning candidates – a theme Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been broaching for some months now.

For the Umno leadership, the pressing issue is to get the party grassroots behind this theme, that Umno warlords, division chiefs and party apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

What is important would be winning candidates who will fight in the constituencies that Umno will contest and in other constituencies where the party’s allies will do battle.

The challenge for the Umno leadership is to convince the power brokers in the party and the division chiefs that the next election is a battle for Umno’s survival and that only a certain type of candidate will be allowed to carry the Barisan Nasional flag.

Najib has to convince the power brokers to voluntarily relinquish the decision to choose the candidates to the party’s top leadership.

Once that is accomplished, this would ensure that the warlords and division chiefs work to ensure the party wins.

They must not, out of anger at not being chosen, simply abandon the election machinery in their areas, go for a holiday at the most crucial moment or even indulge in acts of sabotage.

They must not, as party members, stand as independents and split the votes.

Everything hangs in the balance for the next general election: the number of seats that Barisan Nasi­onal can expect to win, the percentage of votes it can garner, the extent of transformation to society that has taken place and whether voters are convinced.

Najib has been preaching about winning candidates as he makes his rounds around the country.

Deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has also been spreading the importance of winning candidates.

Above all, they want consensus.

An agreement from the party warlords that their candidate choices for the general election will be accepted and endorsed.

A division chairman or his deputy are not automatically the best candidates in their constituencies.

The best candidates could be a humble teacher or a district officer or a doctor or just any ordinary member in the party hierarchy who has a certain degree of easy confidence and restraint and has no derogatory label at the local level.

This, then, is what Najib will set out to do – to establish the fact that party comes first above all else.
The warlords will be asked to make sacrifices and not pull the party leviathan in different directions at the grassroots level.

They will be asked to promise that they will strictly put party interest above self and support wholeheartedly the candidates that the leadership has chosen for the big battle.

Pakatan Rakyat is not an easy enemy to defeat. It might be wounded, it might have “enemies within” and it might have three different agendas.

But they have a unifying figure in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, no matter how beaten down, and a unifying vision of occupying Putrajaya.

They are not easily defeatable.

Besides, Umno has to carry the MCA, MIC, Gerakan and PPP into battle with it, at least in the peninsula.

These parties are in various stages of reinventing themselves for a new generation of voters.

Except for the MCA, which is in a showdown with the DAP, the rest have to accept their defeated images and exist as feeders of votes to big brother Umno in return for representation in parliament.

It’s a new reality that they will have to accept.

Najib will spell out the realities of the altered political landscape at the Umno general assembly that he is not just Umno president but also the Prime Minister for all Malaysians no matter what their race, ethnic group or social status are.

Although badly mauled by defections, PKR has pledged to reinvent itself and fight Umno.

The DAP, on the other hand, is a strong, sleeping giant, sure of Chinese voter support.

PAS, meanwhile, is struggling for Malay votes beyond its one-million card carrying members, having lost the political initiative to Umno.

Its many liberal policies were designed to endear it to non-Malays but it has woken up late to the fact that it needs the Malay voters too and is fast catching up, ratcheting up a hardline stance.

If Najib can convince his party warlords to ease off and not battle him over his choice of candidates and to put party above self, then he would have won half the battle.

The other half is to convince voters that he has been working day and night since becoming Prime Minister in February 2009 while the “Prime Minister-in-waiting” Anwar has been giving speeches from India to Egypt and countries in between.

Najib can win a new mandate from voters but he has to get his party warlords behind him.

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