Malaysia's former ruling party Umno hopeful at general assembly

Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (second from right) arrvies at the opening of Umno, Wanita, Youth and Puteri (young women) wings assembly in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 4, 2019. PHOTO: THE STAR

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's biggest opposition party Umno raised the curtain on its annual assembly on Wednesday (Dec 4) with a spring in its step.

The four-day event was launched with the simultaneous opening of the Women, Youth and Puteri (young women) wings by deputy president Mohamad Hasan.

The main assembly will be opened on Friday by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Unlike last year's sad assembly after its shocking ejection from power, Umno leaders can breathe a big sigh of relief this year.

The party beat arch enemy Pakatan Harapan (PH) in four by-elections this year, even as it welcomes former arch enemy Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) into its meeting hall this time.

"We feel new confidence within us as we have learnt from past mistakes," Madam Ari Basir, 57, the women's wing vice-chief of Umno Bukit Bintang division told The Straits Times yesterday.

"We hope Barisan Nasional will work well with PAS, as together we feel we can recapture power," she added, referring to the coalition helmed by Umno.

The Umno-PAS formal cooperation pact Muafakat Nasional will see the parties zooming in on what they see as the main weakness of the 18-month old PH government: poor handling of Malay-Muslim issues.

With more than 100 of the 222 parliamentary constituencies being Malay-majority seats, the two parties have a large audience to sell their story to.

Umno currently has only 37 of these federal seats and PAS, 18.

The danger is the possibility of a louder drumbeat on race and religion issues, as both the opposition and PH try to win favour from the Malays.

A hot-button issue now is the ashes of the late Chin Peng that were brought into the country by several individuals.

The move gained widespread support from Chinese Malaysians but angered many Malays.

Chin Peng, the former leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, was for Malays the "terrorist" who killed and maimed members of the Malay security forces until his party laid down its arms in 1989.

"He is the father of communism and the communists never stopped fighting. They only laid down their arms," Umno member and retired soldier Husin Yusoh, 69, told ST.

Ironically, another issue that could help the opposition is the non-stop bickering in one of the four coalition members of PH - Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Delegates sing the Malaysian national anthem during the launch of the general assembly for the Umno Wanita, Youth and Puteri (young women) wings at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 4, 2019. PHOTO: BERNAMA

PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Azmin Ali are fighting for control of the party, which has 50 MPs, the biggest group in Parliament under one banner.

Despite the emerging rays of hope, thick dark clouds remain on the Umno horizon.

Former Umno president Najb Razak - tainted by the 1MDB scandal and a key reason Umno was ousted from power - is still very influential.

And current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, while showing gusto in an hour-long speech to party members yesterday, is on trial for corruption.

Their overarching presence raises the question: Why is Umno still associating itself with the two men?

"They have been charged but not yet found guilty. It's not as if we are the only side who is like this," Madam Mariah Jantan, 67, vice-chief of the women's wing at Umno Cheras division told The Straits Times.

She was referring to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who had faced corruption charges over a Penang land and bungalow deal but these were dropped when PH came into power.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.