Umno Youth pledges 'undivided support' for Malaysian PM Najib

Party members close ranks as he comes under fire from Mahathir

UMNO Youth turned a closed-door dialogue with Datuk Seri Najib Razak into a big show of support for the Prime Minister, who was lifted onto the shoulders of boisterous, cheering Youth members.

"The Umno Youth under my leadership will stay committed and give undivided support to the party president and the party leadership in an effort to strengthen the party," Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said after a 90-minute briefing on Monday.

The dialogue was for Mr Najib, who is Umno president, to address issues and allegations raised by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has said he is not fit to lead the party and the country.

Mr Khairy said the briefing allowed the Prime Minister to give more in-depth explanations than he was able to in the TV3 interview televised last Thursday.

The issues included Mr Najib's alleged involvement in the murder of Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu and stance on 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the debt-laden investment agency. Mr Khairy also said his Youth wing fully supported Mr Najib and would relay his explanations to party grassroots and the people.

A similar briefing for Puteri Umno yesterday saw the young women's wing pledge its undivided support for Mr Najib. In total, 178 division chiefs were present.

Umno leaders and members are closing ranks behind their president as Tun Dr Mahathir, the country's longest-serving prime minister who stepped down in 2003 after 22 years, continued to press for answers from Mr Najib.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said the grand gestures by the Youth and Puteri wings would not amount to anything until Mr Najib is able to bring closure to the allegations against him.

"Mr Najib does not need the demonstration of support if he feels that his position is secure… He has to be very careful, especially with the silent majority and grassroots, as Dr Mahathir's influence is still great," Mr Khoo said.

Mr Wong Chin Huat, another analyst, said the briefings with Wanita Umno last week and with the two wings this week prove Mr Najib is not ready to step down.

"Mr Najib is consolidating his party base and Mahathir will have a hard time removing him compared with (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad) Badawi. Najib does not want to step down," said Mr Wong.

Dr Mahathir's attacks have brought pressure to bear on his son, Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir.

Defence Minister and Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein said it was Mr Mukhriz's duty to ensure that Kedah Umno "is not split". State assemblyman Ahmad Lebai Sudin also said he should resign if he does not declare his support for Mr Najib.

Mr Mukhriz said on Monday that Kedah Umno would make known its position on April 24. He described Datuk Ahmad Lebai as "overzealous".

Mr Khairy said yesterday there was no need to put pressure on Mr Mukhriz.

"I believe he understands the situation and he will make a statement on his position in due time," said Mr Khairy, who is Youth and Sports Minister.

"He is a seasoned politician. He is aware of what is going on and I believe he will make his stance. There is no need to pressure him."

asruls@sph.com.sg