Mahathir's legacy comes under fire Umno general assembly

Wing chiefs attack his record, belittle his opposition alliance

From right: Umno Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Puteri chief Mas Ermieyati giving their policy speeches yesterday as shown on a giant screen.
From right: Umno Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Puteri chief Mas Ermieyati giving their policy speeches yesterday as shown on a giant screen. PHOTO: BERNAMA

Umno's longest-serving president, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, became the centre of attention at the party's annual assembly yesterday, as leaders lined up to dismantle "misplaced nostalgia" about him.

They said the opposition alliance now led by the former premier offers false hope and would endanger the political primacy of Malaysia's Malay-Muslim majority if it governed the country.

Dr Mahathir, 92, left the party last year to form Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), a member of the four-party opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan.

In their policy speeches yesterday, leaders of the party's Youth, Women and Puteri (young women) wings criticised Pakatan Harapan for making unrealistic promises, undermining Malay interests, and hypocrisy in addressing corruption.

"I cannot accept... the myth that in his time, everything was perfect but now things are terrible," Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said. "The misplaced nostalgia we've been feeding ourselves is as if we dated Miss Universe."

Dismantling the deep imprint left by Dr Mahathir in the party and country is important for Umno as he still has pockets of support among Malays, who respect him as an elder statesman who developed the country. One method Umno is employing to weaken his legacy is by attacking his record as prime minister, and another by belittling his year-old alliance with the other opposition leaders who were his staunch political enemies for decades.

Puteri chief Mas Ermieyati called PPBM "unstructured, messy and divided" following the resignation of several leaders and members. She said the party had yet to conduct an annual general meeting though it was formed a year ago.

"If something as basic as this can be an obstacle, how can they lead Pakatan Harapan?" she said.

Datuk Ermieyati also took a swipe at Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, who "tried so hard to be a champion" against graft. Datuk Seri Azmin is a senior leader in the Harapan alliance. "What's the story on his nephew now?" she asked, referring to Mr Azmin's nephew's arrest on Nov 29 for allegedly mining sand illegally in the state.

Mr Khairy reminded youth delegates how Dr Mahathir, facilitated by Anwar Ibrahim - the jailed opposition leader and former finance minister - signed off on power generation and highway deals that enriched "a small group of rich businessmen".

He alleged that billions of dollars were spent to bail out failed companies, and were lost to scandals such as the central bank foreign exchange losses and over-payment for projects such as the Port Klang Free Zone project.

Mr Khairy listed other corruption allegations linked to opposition politicians, including Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's discounted bungalow purchase, a huge mansion owned by an opposition youth leader in Selangor, and exorbitant consultancy fees allegedly paid for a project in Penang.

Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil claimed that the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) - the second-largest bloc in Parliament after Umno - was the real leader of the opposition.

"Are the people willing to hand over the country that we have built up for so long to chauvinist leaders?" she said, referring to the oft-repeated Umno claim that DAP will dismantle the country's pro-Malay and Islamic policies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline Mahathir's legacy comes under fire Umno general assembly. Subscribe