The three wings of Umno rallied around Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday, calling on the grassroots to show undivided loyalty to the party president ahead of an upcoming national election.
Most of the delegates cheered wildly when their respective leaders praised the Premier. Women chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil called on her wing - a backbone of the party due to its well-oiled election machinery - to defend Datuk Seri Najib as he is "the best president I have ever served".
Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin in his opening policy speech screened videos to prove that Mr Najib has responded positively to a raft of requests by the wing, such as implementing a minimum wage, tackling youth unemployment and subsidising transport costs.
"This is why Umno Youth continues to support him to remain at the helm of the party and the government - because he is a leader who always listens to the voices of the youth, and more importantly, a leader who has delivered much of the youth's aspirations," he said.
The rally to fall in behind Mr Najib followed his own call on Tuesday for his party to close ranks as it gears up for the general election which is expected next year.
The two-day annual assembly of the Women, Youth and Puteri (young women) wings ended yesterday. It was a calm affair following more than a year of turmoil because of widespread reports of financial mismanagement and corruption at the state investment firm 1MDB which was closely connected to Mr Najib. The three wings, comprising some 3,000 delegates, held their meetings in three separate halls.
International investigations are continuing into the scandal revolving around state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), but in Malaysia itself, Mr Najib was cleared by the Attorney-General of any wrongdoing in January.
With Mr Najib's critics in Umno purged and the opposition in disarray, Malaysia's biggest political party has rebounded from the dark months that started in July last year when news reports began emerging over the 1MDB scandal.
The peaceful assembly this year has allowed some delegates to be louder in their complaints against the government, including those who asked whether the leadership had done enough to deserve their undivided loyalty.
In his speech, Negeri Sembilan Youth secretary Rizuan Ahmad asked: "We will continue to support the president but can we continue to hold the loyalty of the public when people are in dire straits? Do we think that voters out there, with the pain of rising costs, (will give) the loyalty we deserve?"
Penang division women's chief Hamidah Arshad asked why government-linked companies (GLCs) were not handing more jobs to ethnic Malays, who form the core vote bank of the Umno-led government.
"GLCs are ours. But it's given to other races. How are we to help our own race?" she said.
Acting deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi acknowledged the complaints, saying: "This shows the concern of the wings on the pains of living costs. I said last night that the Prime Minister's attention and concern should be focused on targeted groups that need help."
Mr Najib has to face the polls only in August 2018, but speculation that they will be called next year has swirled after new electoral boundaries were revealed in September, while cooperation between Umno and the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia has weakened the opposition.