Joceline Tan

Umno's ranks crank up for annual huddle

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin on the campaign trail before the last general election. He has brought the wow factor to his position as Youth and Sports Minister and is one of the most watched Umno politicians.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin on the campaign trail before the last general election. He has brought the wow factor to his position as Youth and Sports Minister and is one of the most watched Umno politicians.ST FILE PHOTO

DATUK Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has put a lot of effort into his role as chairman for the Umno resolutions committee. He wants to bring greater meaning and result to the hundreds of resolutions that come in from Umno branches and divisions every year ahead of the Umno general assembly, which will be held next week.

His committee has received a total of 755 resolutions from 191 Umno divisions all over the country. These resolutions range from localised matters like calls for better roads to weighty stuff like defending Islam.

In previous years, the relevant resolutions were selected for debate at the assembly while the rest were usually acknowledged with a simple reply.

This year, Mr Hishammuddin has sifted through the resolutions and brought them before the relevant ministries for attention and action. His argument is that these resolutions reflect the needs, requests and aspirations of the party grassroots and must be acted upon. That was what the round- table meeting involving ministry officials on Wednesday was about.

"He is looking at the scenario beyond the general assembly. He wants the Umno folk down there to know that issues which are of concern to them are being taken seriously by the party leadership. Taking action on views from the grassroots is a way of empowering them," said Pasir Salak Youth chief Faizal Tajuddin.

Last year's Umno assembly had been a sort of mixed feelings type of gathering. The rank and file were euphoric that they had successfully conducted a landmark party election without too many boo-boos. There was a celebratory mood as they ushered in the new batch of leaders.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin retained their posts uncontested, a sign of the party's stability despite a bruising general election.

They could also see the second echelon taking shape in the form of vice-presidents Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin and Shafie Apdal.

In particular, Mr Khairy Jamaluddin's spectacular second-term win as Umno Youth chief means that he is the one to watch in the years ahead. Mr Khairy has brought the wow factor to his position as Youth and Sports Minister, and he is one of the most watched Umno politicians among those outside of Umno. His opinions on issues have shown that he is a cut above the rest and, more recently, many thought that he handled the doping issue involving Malaysia's No. 1 badminton star with great maturity.

Umno is still struggling between the old and the new. It wants to hold on to its traditional core values as a Malay nationalist party but it is also under immense pressure to adapt to the changing political landscape.

At the same time, there was the painful fact that Umno was no longer the political powerhouse that it used to be and they were still hurting over what they saw as the "Chinese betrayal".

The hurt is still there and they are uncertain about what the future holds for Umno.

The general expectation is that issues like the Sedition Act, vernacular schools and the attacks against Islam and the Malay rulers will dominate the debates. "Warning shots" have been fired in the run-up to the assembly, with some politicians claiming that Chinese schools are creating "two nations in one country" while another politician urged that all Malay-majority seats should be contested by Umno.

The euphoria of last year has dissipated. In its place is a restlessness for measures that can prepare the party to face the next big battle. There is the sense that party members are impatient for answers and solutions.

Frank views and reasonable criticism should be welcomed to help the leadership keep the finger on the pulse and also for delegates to let off steam. The party has not moved forward very much since the last general election. The inability on the part of Barisan Nasional to present itself as the alternative in Selangor even as Pakatan Rakyat was fighting like crazy over the Menteri Besar post was testimony to that.

The political fatigue seen everywhere is not only because of too much politicking over everything but also because people are disillusioned that the promise of new politics has not materialised.

"The PM's political transformation is in danger of becoming a mere slogan. Umno leaders need to put more beef into the transformation agenda or else it will become like Islam Hadhari. No one talks about that anymore," said political analyst Azmi Omar.

Umno people are still adjusting to Mr Najib's political style. One of their grouses is that he is "too quiet". They say it is important that he makes known the government's stand and opinion on an issue so that Umno politicians down the line know how to respond on their own part. It is also a form of taking the lead and shaping public opinion on issues.

It has been a challenging year for Mr Najib, who is now into his fifth year as Umno president and Prime Minister.

But despite everything, said publisher Juhaidi Yean Abdullah, Mr Najib's position in Umno is solid, more so than most Umno presidents in their fifth year on the job.

"Internally, I don't see any challengers to his leadership. The Umno assembly will not be like what happened at the PAS muktamar (congress) where the guns were pointed inwards. The Umno guns will be pointing outwards," said Mr Juhaidi.