KUALA LUMPUR - Umno made clear its intentions to reclaim its dominance of Malaysian politics as it kicked off its annual national congress Saturday (March 27), stating it must triumph at the next election after a year of bowing to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Deputy president Mohamad Hasan opened the youth, women's and young women's wing meeting by accusing critics of politicising Malay Muslim unity to pressure Malaysia's largest party into remaining in an unbeneficial pact with the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.
Detractors, some from within Umno, have decried the move as breaking up the sought-after "Perpaduan Ummah (Unity of the Faith)" as the existing ruling pact involves all three main Malay Muslim parties including Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
The retort comes just weeks after Umno president Zahid Hamidi told Tan Sri Muhyiddin the party would withdraw from government once Parliament is dissolved and not cooperate with the premier's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia at the next election.
Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan called for fresh polls - expected soon after the coronavirus-induced state of emergency is lifted by August - a "must win" so Umno can regain leadership of the country.
"Although Umno is part of the PN government, its role is isolated and not dominant. We bow more than rise as the core," the former Negri Sembilan chief minister said of the party which supplies the most MPs to Mr Muhyiddin's administration.
He told a press conference after his speech that "there's no two ways about" Umno reclaiming the premiership it lost three years ago.
"There's no use winning without leading the country (ourselves)," he said.
However, he shied away from naming the party's PM candidate. President Zahid as well as a clutch of top leaders are currently facing hundreds of graft charges.
Datuk Seri Mohamad dismissed claims that Muslims were split, as cooperation with former nemesis PAS resulted in a string of by-election victories since Umno shockingly lost its six-decade grip on power at the 2018 general election.
"Let us not regard Muslim unity merely Malay parties being in the same political pact. The call for unity must be read in a larger context, beyond political ideology, the pursuit of power and social status," he said, pointing out that Umno and PAS only have about four million members, when dozens of millions of Malays remain partyless.
The Rantau assemblyman also poured scorn on "leaders of a splinter Malay party" - a thinly veiled reference to the four-year-old Bersatu - "who have no record of uniting Malays and Malaysians".
"In reality, they are anti-Malay unity. They have never championed any unity efforts. Only when their survival and the relevance of their party is under threat, then they rush to talk about unity. We will not prostitute (Malay unity) for narrow political goals," he said.
The well-received speech came ahead of an expected resolution at Sunday's main general assembly to formally endorse the decision to part ways with Bersatu once polls are called.
In his policy speech, youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki attacked "the party that was formed to replace us" for "forming new alliances to sideline us".
"They talk about integrity but they are treacherous. The talk about unity but they sow division," he said.
Still, some Umno leaders questioned the haste in cutting ties with Bersatu.
"The decision not to work with other parties is only for the election. Why discuss something far off as if it is happening tomorrow? Our focus should be on cooperation because we are in the existing PN government," Perlis Umno chief Shahidan Kassim told reporters.
Mr Mohamad did leave the door open to "strategic" considerations "based on value and terms that benefit Umno... which is ever ready to discuss and explore avenues to solve the national political crisis".
"Any party that wants to cooperate with us, must be certain of Umno's capability to be the core driver, not the second stringer, to be collected to fill up quotas or seats," he said.