THE scene at the finale of the Umno general assembly was something no one could have imagined.
The delegates in the hall were up on their feet, cheering and applauding as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad joined Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on stage.
It was supposedly a surprise appearance but there were obviously some very influential hands at work behind the scenes in persuading Dr Mahathir to “drop in” after he had changed his mind about attending the opening on Thursday.
And he arrived just in time to catch the tail end of deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s speech and the entirety of Najib’s speech as the new president of Umno.
The way the crowd cheered and clapped at every mention of his name was simply amazing.
It was his first appearance at a general assembly since retiring as Prime Minister and he probably did not expect such an outpouring from the delegates.
They not only respected him but there was genuine affection in the response to his presence.
In fact, the handover from Abdullah to Najib this time was in stark contrast to the year when Dr Mahathir handed over the reins to Abdullah in 2003. The PWTC then was jam-packed for three days and the emotion among the crowd was almost palpable.
Dr Mahathir is no longer powerful but he is still influential. Abdullah’s premature exit is in large part due to the criticism from him.
Najib has been around long enough to know that you cannot lose if you have Malaysia’s most eminent statesman on your side.
He added his deft touch to the occasion with a very personal account of his relationship with Abdullah.
Then he invited Dr Mahathir, who quit the party last year, to return to Umno, saying that Umno blood runs in the former premier’s veins.
Dr Mahathir was halfway back to Umno by the time he was led onstage by Datuk Rauf Yusoh, a Najib loyalist.
Both Najib and Muhyiddin bowed low to kiss his hand while Abdullah shook his hand and then bent forward for an awkward cheek-to-cheek with the elder man. It was the closest the two had ever been since the very public fallout three years ago.
Dr Mahathir almost stole the show by showing up. That is his star power in Umno. All in all, it was a masterstroke to a historic assembly.
Everything had proceeded according to schedule even if the outcome of the elections was not to everyone’s satisfaction.
There was no sense of unfinished business in this year’s assembly and perhaps the most satisfying part was that the transition had been as smooth as anyone could have dared to hope for.
Najib gave a speech that left no doubt in the minds of those listening that he is very focused and determined about making Umno a better party that genuinely reflects the grassroots’ aspirations and needs.
Muhyiddin’s speech achieved three things. First, he found closure with Abdullah over the way he had spoken out on the transition issue.
Second, he elaborated his support for Najib and his agenda of change and reform.
Third, he pledged to be a loyal No 2 and laid to rest the perception that he would destablise Najib.
Vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal gave a speech worthy of his status as the first vice-president from Sabah.
One could say that Shafie made history in his own way and his win signalled that Sabah Umno was no longer the sidekick of sorts that people in the peninsula had viewed them.
After this, Sabah Umno will not stray from the party.
Vice-president Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has also arrived in a way.
He showed leadership when he did not give in to the arm-twisting tactic of the Malay linguists over the use of English to teach mathematics and science.
The issue had resurfaced at a very vulnerable moment of his election campaign and a lesser person would have crumbled.
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the top vice-president, gave a speech that was more firepower than substance.
He made people sit up but few could really remember what he had said an hour later.
Najib’s team is all set to get going.
Source : The Star