News analysis

ABCs of Umno assembly - key points to take away

With the Umno annual assembly over, Malaysian politicians are totting up its key takeaways, and mulling over when the general election will be called.

For Umno supporters, the five-day gathering that ended last Saturday has strengthened and united the party.

To them, the cobwebs from last year's general assembly have been swept away, including uncomfortable questions about the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

"It is not far-fetched for me to say that we have managed to place the party back on the right track," said Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein last Saturday.

One key takeaway is Prime Minister Najib Razak signalling that the general election, although due only in August 2018, will be held "soon".

To Umno critics, however, questions about 1MDB have been swept under the carpet.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad slammed members of his former party for being willing to work with a prime minister who, he alleged, has caused billions of dollars to disappear. "What they know is cash is king. And they continue to worship money," Tun Dr Mahathir wrote on his blog last Friday.

 
 

For Umno supporters, the five-day gathering that ended last Saturday has strengthened and united the party. To them, the cobwebs from last year's general assembly have been swept away, including uncomfortable questions about the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

To make it easier to absorb the key issues, here are the ABCs of the just-concluded meeting:

A = Ally. Umno is looking at opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia as an informal ally, to weaken other opposition parties.

B = BR1M, the lauded government cash handout that helps it get votes.

C = Chinese Malaysians, a voter bank unlikely to return in bulk to the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition at the next polls.

D = DAP, the opposition Chinese-led Democratic Action Party, which Umno demonises to get Malay votes.

E = Elections. When will the polls be called? In Malaysia, only the Prime Minister knows.

F = Funds. A big war chest is needed for the elections. Former Umno leader Mukhriz Mahathir claimed that Datuk Seri Najib told him that BN dispensed RM1 billion (S$318 million) in the 2013 elections.

G = GST. The unpopular Goods and Services Tax is blamed by everyone for soaring prices in the past two years.

H = Housing. Mr Najib has promised thousands of new affordable units, to address complaints from Malay grassroots.

I = Islamic law, a bigger and bigger issue in Malaysia despite opposition from non-Muslims.

J = Jho Low, a former confidant of Mr Najib in 1MDB, whose name was not mentioned at the Umno meeting.

K = Khairy Jamaluddin, the Youth and Sports Minister, who is widely said to be eyeing the Umno vice-president's post.

L = Loyalty, a virtue much prized in a party that has gone through two turbulent years.

M = Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Najib's fiercest critic, who has been repeatedly attacked.

N = Najib Razak, who is so far winning the battle of hearts against Dr Mahathir.

O = Oomph, which the assembly had in spades this year, in huge contrast to last year's grim gathering.

P = Putra World Trade Centre, where Umno has its headquarters and has faced countless battles.

Q = Questions. Well, there were zero questions about 1MDB this year.

R = Rosmah Mansor, Mr Najib's wife, who is often targeted by the opposition.

S = Sabah and Sarawak, two giant states where BN needs to secure strong wins again.

T = Tick-tock, as the countdown for the 14th general election has begun.

U = Unity, specifically Malay unity, which plays well in the Malay rural ground.

V = Victors and vanquished. More about these after the polls.

W = Wings. With the Umno wings behind him - Women, Youth and Puteri (young women) - Mr Najib is unassailable.

X = X-factor, the feel-good factor that Mr Najib needs before calling an election.

Y = Young voters, who have no historical baggage or voter loyalty, so everyone wants to win them over.

Z = Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Having seen the turmoil caused by impatient deputy presidents, he will bide his time for the top job.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'ABCs of Umno assembly - key points to take away'. Print Edition | Subscribe