Umno annual general assembly

Umno general assembly: Closing ranks in last pow wow before election

A worker putting the finishing touches to decorations for Umno's General Assembly to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur this week. The reception area (below) of he Putra World Trade Centre decorated with Umno flags. Umno secretar
A worker putting the finishing touches to decorations for Umno's General Assembly to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur this week. PHOTO: BERNAMA
A worker putting the finishing touches to decorations for Umno's General Assembly to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur this week. The reception area (below) of he Putra World Trade Centre decorated with Umno flags. Umno secretar
The reception area (above) of he Putra World Trade Centre decorated with Umno flags. Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said unity will be the main theme of this year's five-day general assembly.PHOTO: BERNAMA

But ambitious leaders jostling ahead of party's own polls

Prime Minister Najib Razak goes into a final Umno pow wow this week before a crucial general election due by August, hoping to unite the party after two years of fending off critics, and entrenching his own position despite a graft scandal that made global headlines.

But party sources told The Straits Times (ST) that Datuk Seri Najib's move to close ranks may come up against intense lobbying by ambitious leaders ahead of Umno's own polls to be held soon after Malaysians go to the national ballot.

"The campaigning has already begun because the party polls are supposed to be held by the middle of next year. The assembly will be the best platform as all the grassroots leaders are there," said an aide to a top official, adding that jockeying went as high as the vice-presidential level.

Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said unity will be the main theme when this year's five-day general assembly, known by its Malay acronym PAU, kicks off.

The leadership will call on members to "showcase our accomplishments" in government ahead of the general election, he said last week.

With the graft scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd seen in Umno as having little impact on the looming general election, its leaders now face the challenge of tempering public anger over cost of living issues including the high prices of homes.

And the party needs to show its main voting base, the Malay majority, that only the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government can defend their Malay privileges and the primacy of Islam.

 

"Is Umno very ugly? Is Umno very dirty? Umno is being punished by the court of public opinion," deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi asked undergraduates last Thursday. His answer: "Umno is the last bastion for Muslims and Malays in this country. Our record shows our achievement and success."

 

Burnishing the Najib administration's credentials will be crucial as BN faces the unprecedented challenge of an opposition led by a former premier and two ex-deputy prime ministers - Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yassin.

And it is not just any former prime minister. Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia for 22 years, now chairs the Pakatan Harapan pact. He has spent the past three years criticising Mr Najib.

The Prime Minister will be hoping Umno's machinery - the largest in the country - can convince voters that his nine-year administration trumps Dr Mahathir's track record. But it is a tough yardstick, especially in terms of growing the Malaysian economy.

ST understands that at a closed-door strategy briefing for Umno leaders last Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid said more had to be done to ensure success.

A party source said that while PM Najib had expressed at an earlier BN briefing that reclaiming the two-thirds supermajority in Parliament was possible after ceding it a decade ago, Datuk Seri Zahid's views left the impression that it was still a mammoth task, especially with lingering concerns about the jostling for power in Umno.

More than 5,700 delegates across all wings will converge on Umno's headquarters at Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur for the PAU, cheered on by several thousand more grassroots leaders from all over the country.

Many of them are expected to huddle in hotel rooms, cafes and meeting rooms to discuss the party polls, with the sheer confidence that BN will win another five-year term.

Umno's last polls were in 2013 - five months after the May general election. The party postponed the next one that was due in 2016 for 18 months, as allowed under its charter. By right, the election must be done by April. But ST understands Umno is likely to gain special dispensation from the Registrar of Societies to delay it to later in 2018.

After the general election, Umno will first hold its ballot at its 22,000 branches, and then at the 191 divisions, before the top positions are contested. The whole process takes at least three months.

"It's the branch and divisional levels that are debilitating due to internal politicking against supposedly party comrades," said Pacific Research Centre's principal adviser Oh Ei Sun.

For the ambitious Umno warlords, victory of their supporters at the branch, and then divisional levels, is crucial if they hope to win a place in the national leadership.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline 'Closing ranks in last pow wow before election'. Print Edition | Subscribe