Sombre mood at Umno birthday amid calls for Najib to step down

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (front row, in pink) at evening prayers at Umno's headquarters yesterday. The party marked its 72nd anniversary in a subdued manner after a bruising defeat at the polls. Several Umno leaders have called for
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (front row, in pink) at evening prayers at Umno's headquarters yesterday. The party marked its 72nd anniversary in a subdued manner after a bruising defeat at the polls. Several Umno leaders have called for reforms, hinting at appointing a new party president during its internal elections, which would likely be held by year end. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Daggers out, with several leaders calling for reform as party marks 72nd anniversary sans pomp and vibrancy

Two days after long-ruling party Umno's fall from power, it celebrated its 72nd anniversary with a prayer session.

The event was supposed to be a celebration of yet another election victory, but the mood was funereal after Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) was badly mauled at the hustings on Wednesday.

Missing yesterday was the pomp and vibrancy normally seen at these major Umno functions, with former prime minister Najib Razak attending a solemn prayer session with his commanders.

Datuk Seri Najib did not speak to the press, leaving hurriedly to a meeting room after the prayer and meal session was over.

Already, daggers are out, with several Umno leaders calling for reform, hinting towards appointing a new party president during its internal elections, which would likely be held by year end. The party is constitutionally slated to hold its polls every three years, but this has been delayed by two years.

"To return to the original Umno, we must undergo a major change within," Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement.

He added that changes needed include "absolute honesty, outstanding courage and painful sacrifice".

Calling for the "rebuilding of the party" and for Umno to return to its "original spirit", Mr Khairy finds his words echoed by Umno Youth leaders nationwide.

Umno Youth from seven states have called on Mr Najib to step down from a post he has held since 2008, when he won uncontested at party elections.

Already, whispering among female delegates walking towards the cavernous banquet hall at the basement of Umno headquarters were heard on whether Mr Najib should resign as party president.

BN suffered a shocking defeat on Wednesday night in the country's 14th general election, winning only 79 seats in Parliament from 133 in 2013.

Calculations by the Malay Mail newspaper found BN got just 36.42 per cent of the popular vote, compared with Pakatan Harapan's 47.33 per cent.

Umno, the main BN component party, won the biggest chunk with 47 seats. While Mr Najib and his deputies Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Mr Najib's cousin Hishammuddin Hussein retained their wards, many high-ranking BN leaders lost to Pakatan Harapan candidates.

As party leaders sat down for the meal yesterday, Mr Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor was nowhere to be seen. The main table where Mr Najib sat was not full. Key lieutenants present were former Cabinet ministers Mr Zahid, Mr Hishammuddin, Mr Mustapa Mohamed and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who like Mr Najib, all won their seats and will be in the new Parliament. Noticeably absent were Mr Khairy and Umno Women's wing chief Shahrizat Jalil.

Gone were Umno's glory days of its usual grandeur during party affairs. Yesterday, the hallways at its headquarters were empty. Just last year, the party celebrated its anniversary in a stadium, attended by more than 140,000 supporters decked out in red, the party's colour.

Newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had a short response when asked by reporters what was his birthday message for Umno, a party he once led for 22 years.

"Go back to your roots," Tun Dr Mahathir said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Sombre mood at Umno birthday amid calls for Najib to step down'. Print Edition | Subscribe