Leaders call on Umno to close ranks, beat opposition

Prime Minister Najib Razak (in centre of picture), who is also Umno president, arriving at the Putra World Trade Centre for the party's general assembly yesterday. With him is Umno's executive secretary Datuk Abdul Rauf Yusoh.
Prime Minister Najib Razak (in centre of picture), who is also Umno president, arriving at the Putra World Trade Centre for the party's general assembly yesterday. With him is Umno's executive secretary Datuk Abdul Rauf Yusoh.ST PHOTO: SHANNON TEOH

Najib drops hints of a general election next year on first day of party meeting

Umno's leadership sought to rally the party together on the opening day of its annual assembly yesterday, after weathering nearly two years of attempts to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak over one of Malaysia's biggest graft scandals.

The party president told top officers from the party's 191 divisions in a closed-door briefing that it was time to unite, and dropped heavy hints of a potential general election next year, according to those who were present.

"The speech given provides the impetus for Umno members to work harder," said a Selangor division chief, Mr Jamal Yunos, who also leads the pro-government Red Shirts movement. "Most importantly, his message signals that the drum has been beaten to face the elections."

Datuk Seri Najib also spoke to the Umno delegates and other leaders about critics who have left the party, including former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who led the government and Umno for 22 years until 2003.

The duo have formed a new opposition party, having called for Mr Najib to resign over allegations that US$700 million (S$999 million) found in the premier's personal accounts came from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The Prime Minister has insisted the money was a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

 
 

"Even those who were in different camps before, we must come together now. To go into war, we need to be together," said Kuala Lumpur Umno leader Raja Nong Chik, of Mr Najib's words.

Mr Najib has to face national polls by August 2018, but speculation that elections will be called next year swirled after new electoral boundaries were revealed in September, and as cooperation between Umno and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia continues to sow discord among the other opposition parties.

Speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony for a new 70-storey tower later, Mr Najib also called on leaders who no longer love the party to not "rip the hearts" of those who still do.

Mr Najib has to face national polls by August 2018, but speculation that elections will be called next year swirled after new electoral boundaries were revealed in September, and as cooperation between Umno and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia continues to sow discord among the other opposition parties.

Speaking at a separate function, acting Umno deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also kept the war drums beating.

Opening the women's, youth and Puteri (young women) wings last night, he challenged them not to merely defend the 134seats won in the 222-member Parliament, but to reclaim ground lost since 2004, when the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition had 198 MPs.

He said that previous electoral setbacks could be overcome only if Umno's grassroots worked harder to overcome opposition attacks, which he likened to "hatred politics" propagated by Nazi Germany.

"You must have heard about Adolf Hitler, the German Nazi leader who killed millions of Jews during World War II. His success was due to an effective propaganda strategy based on lies. The opposition's plot is nearly the same," said the Deputy Prime Minister.

Datuk Seri Zahid said it was crucial for the party to win the online battle to spread the word that "Umno is not racist", as 87 per cent of information is obtained via new media. "Umno is not just for Malays. Umno still holds firmly to power-sharing in politics," he said.

The five-day meeting at its headquarters in Putra World Trade Centre ends on Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Leaders call on Umno to close ranks, beat opposition'. Print Edition | Subscribe