KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak beat the war drums for the "Father of all Elections" against former premier Mahathir Mohamad's opposition pact on Thursday (Dec 7), at the opening of Umno's annual assembly.
Datuk Seri Najib warned his ruling party that the fate of the nation was at stake in the national polls due by August next year.
In his policy address, the Umno president warned that Malaysia's economy and pro-Malay and Islamic policies would be in tatters if the opposition took power, resuming the theme outlined by the youth, women and young women wings a day earlier at their own annual meeting.
"If the nation falls to the wrong and irresponsible party, everything that we and our fathers have built tirelessly will crash and be destroyed before our own eyes," he said.
Sticking to a well-worn line that the Chinese-led opposition party, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), wants to wipe out Malay and Islamic rights should it take power, Mr Najib spoke about protecting the special position of Malays.
He accused Dr Mahathir of claiming to "fight for Malays and Islam, but he is allied to and being used by DAP which is clearly anti-Malay and Islam".
Mr Najib warned that "this noble and free race (the Malays) will have their dignity crushed, and lose their primacy" if the opposition took power.
"Worse, they will be cast aside, disgraced and left destitute in their own land," he said. .
Mr Najib scoffed at the relevance of Dr Mahathir, who is 92, likening him to former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, 93, who was ousted from power last month.
Said PM Najib: "It is strange that there are those that are still willing to be led by someone in his twilight years, when former president Mugabe in Zimbabwe who is the same age has been rejected by his own people".
Mr Najib called on his party to "rise from our comfort zone" to woo fence-sitters instead of losing "a perception war that nearly caused our defeat" at the last election in 2013.
Mr Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition holds a comfortable majority in Parliament but lost the popular vote for the first time at the last polls. However, the opposition has since fractured with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) going its own way and even cooperating with Umno on Islamic issues.
But Tun Mahathir, who was in power for 22 years until 2003, has spent the past three years criticising the Najib administration, and called for his successor to step down over graft allegations.
Dr Mahathir formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) last year and joined the Pakatan Harapan alliance. The four-party pact believes the former prime minister's entry will shore up support among the Malay Muslim majority.
Mr Najib proclaimed himself the Prime Minister to "32 million Malaysians of all races", insisting that Umno "is not a racist party".
"If not, how could we have been accepted to lead a multiracial coalition for decades," he said. "I stress that Umno is not anti-Chinese. But what is clear is that Chinese and some Indians, have been trapped as victims of perception by opposition lies."
Mr Najib took a swipe at the opposition for its long campaign against tolled highways, and for claiming that the government's recent move to cancel four toll-road collections in three states as "burdening the people".
"Isn't Mahathir the father of all tolls?" he added, a reference to the number of tolled roads that were implemented during the former premier's administration.
PM Najib also addressed ties with PAS amid his party's growing cooperation with the Islamist party in recent years.
He said: "Our stand is clear, that is our relationship with them is based on the interest of the Muslim ummah, even though our political views differ".