Umno divisions proclaim unity as annual meets start

Women delegates snapping a wefie with Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein at the Cheras divisional meeting yesterday.
Women delegates snapping a wefie with Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein at the Cheras divisional meeting yesterday.PHOTO: FOTOBERNAMA

Party president Najib calls on members to prepare for upcoming general election

GOMBAK (Selangor) • A clutch of Umno divisions completed their annual meetings over the weekend - gatherings keenly watched for signs of the party's mood and support for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is being buffeted by the 1MDB scandal and public unhappiness over the cost of living.

The 191 Umno divisions hold the meetings until the end of August every year in the run-up to the annual assembly at the year end.

Although carefully choreographed to project unity, these sessions have seen thrills and spills over the years when grassroots supporters for the three million-strong party aired major grievances against the leadership.

Datuk Seri Najib last week reminded delegates attending the meetings in their hometowns about what is at stake: "Strengthen bonds and rise together to prepare the machinery and line up strategies in preparation for the 14th general election."

There are some expectations that he could call polls over the upcoming months.

From Friday to yesterday, Umno divisions in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Pahang, Kedah and Negeri Sembilan were among those that met and passed resolutions on staying united.

Umno's 191 divisions represent each of the 222 parliamentary constituencies, except for the 31 seats in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak - the only one where the Malay nationalist party is not present.

ON NAJIB'S LEADING CRITIC

His time is past, be quiet... He unveils the flaws of the present leaders; don't forget we also used to cover his flaws.

UMNO'S NO. 2, AHMAD ZAHID HAMIDI on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former party president turned opposition leader

For Mr Najib, who is Umno president, the news from the ground has been good so far, according to media reports.

In the past two years, issues related to debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd have been raised at the meetings. This year, the target of scorn has been the opposition, including the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former Umno president who has turned opposition leader.

At some meetings, delegates waved "I Love PM" placards.

Said Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is Umno's No.2 man, in referring to Dr Mahathir: "His time is past, be quiet... He unveils the flaws of the present leaders; don't forget we also used to cover his flaws".

Each division is led by a divisional chief who is sometimes referred to as a warlord.

He looks after the constituency under him - even though he might not be its MP - by dispensing to his lieutenants development funds channelled by the top leadership. These could include salaries for village chiefs, funds to build small roads, or sewing machines for single mums. In turn, he pledges his division's loyalty to the top leaders.

And when the opposition shouts about scandals, the warlord calms the ground.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Umno divisions proclaim unity as annual meets start'. Print Edition | Subscribe