KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's long-ruling Umno party must place victory in a looming general election ahead of personal ambitions, and resolve its internal tensions "like a family", Prime Minister Najib Razak told his party chiefs on Tuesday (Dec 5), as he sought to close their ranks at the start of its annual assembly.
In the closed-door briefing to top and grassroots leaders across all party wings, Datuk Seri Najib said a committee would look into "conflict resolution" to ensure a smooth campaign in the national polls that must be held by August, sources who attended the meeting told The Straits Times.
Umno started its five-day general assembly on Tuesday, with the traditional presidential briefing on the party's immediate challenges.
"He (PM Najib) said Umno has three problem (relationships) - between Umno and Umno, between Umno and elected representatives, and between Umno and components" of the Barisan Nasional coalition, said an attendee at the briefing.
Datuk Seri Najib, the Umno president, called on members to compromise on election candidacy and have faith in a new selection methodology which has brought results in recent by-elections.
"Najib said those who have been candidates can make way for others as there are many ways to serve if the party remains in power," a source told The Straits Times.
Malaysia's biggest political party has internally overcome its crisis involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), though the issue is far from settled outside the party.
With the general election expected within months, followed by Umno's internal polls, the party is now facing intense jockeying for position.
Its ranks of ambitious leaders want to be picked as candidates for the general election. There is also simultaneous jostling for posts ahead of its internal polls.
Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani told reporters after attending the briefing that "all leaders must work together and compromise" as each seat could have only one candidate.
Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein added that Mr Najib called on party leaders to focus on the election and not internal party positions. "It is important for them to put party above everything else. Facing an election, it's not just delegates in the hall who are important but the public outside," the Defence Minister said.
In his hour-long briefing, Mr Najib admitted that mistakes were made in managing 1MDB - reiterating what he had said previously - but that the state fund he controlled had recovered.
He said two key developments launched by 1MDB which once chalked up RM51 billion (S$17 billion) in debt, the Tun Razak Exchange and Bandar Malaysia, would fetch a gross development value of RM40 billion and over RM100 billion, respectively.
PM Najib said this contrasted with the foreign exchange losses notched by Malaysia's central bank in the early 1990s under the Mahathir administration, which a recent Royal Commission of Inquiry "corroborated that a RM31.5 billion loss was real and not fabricated".
The Premier sought to dispel doubts over whether Umno members should stand behind him, by attacking Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his mentor-turned-nemesis, for being an iron-fisted dictator during his 22-year rule which ended in 2003.
"Najib wants to be a president who is loved and respected, and said this fight needs family values - protect our friends and protect our party," said a source.