KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's biggest political party Umno begins its annual meeting today in a calm and united atmosphere as its president, Prime Minister Najib Razak, has overcome the challenges of the past two years linked to a state fund.
With his political enemies banished to attacking him from outside the party, Datuk Seri Najib is expected to focus his energy during the closely watched meeting on preparing his troops for the general election.
He also has a stronger hand to quietly stay the hand of his party chiefs, who are keen to lobby for positions ahead of Umno's internal polls, to be held after the general election.
Unlike in the turmoil of the last two meetings, caused by the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, Umno leaders have since regained confidence in the 71-year-old party after fending off critics.
"I would put our (election) readiness right now at 9.5 on a scale of one to 10," Umno acting deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told The Star last week.
He has helped to stabilise Umno during the turmoil by standing closely by Mr Najib.
The Prime Minister in June last year sacked his then deputy Muhyiddin Yassin as well as Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Tun Dr Mahathir left Umno as well and, together with Tan Sri Muhyiddin and Mr Mukhriz, formed a party and joined the opposition front.
Dr Mahathir, who remains quite popular among many elder Malay voters, is a reason Umno cannot afford to become complacent in the upcoming general election, which must be called by next August.
Another reason for caution within Umno, lead party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, is voter anger over cost-of-living issues.