AS Umno finalises preparations for its most crucial gathering this week, grassroots leaders are especially looking out for strong expressive messages from party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Najib’s “Taklimat Presiden” tomorrow, likely to be the last platform for him to say it from the heart in front of key officials from Umno’s 191 divisions before the party leads Barisan Nasional into the general election, is expected to be crisp and emphatic.
Driving home his point Many will be bracing for Najib’s address. As a prelude to the Youth, Wanita and Puteri congress on Wednesday and the main party assembly from Thursday to Saturday, the party president will use this pre-council meeting to re-emphasise what he has been telling Umno members since taking over the party’s helm in 2009.
For the prime minister, it is an opportunity to address Umno’s perennial problems to these people who wield considerable influence — from disunity, factionalism and enemies from within, to issues relating to the upcoming general and party elections.
Observers note that it is perhaps a chance to make clear again for the party’s sake the importance of fielding winnable candidate even if some in the audience have the persistent but mistaken belief that they belong in this category.
Without their commitment to see through the desired reforms to the extent of willingly setting aside personal feelings and interests for the sake of the party, Umno’s road to full recovery will be long and winding. And since Najib has made it categorically clear in the past that he intends to put party interests above all, those gathering for the closed-door briefing can expect the party president to be blunt in driving his point home.
It should not come as a surprise if tomorrow Najib says he is prepared to even drop his friends for others who are more winnable candidates. Najib is likely to plead with members to accept the party’s decision on winnable candidates and not sulk or sabotage the party’s election machinery if they or their preferred candidates are not picked.
Umno’s position today, as every member has been told to gear up for, is that it can no longer go about business as usual; the conventional methods of selecting election candidates must go, because times have changed and so have people and their expectations.
The post-2008 political landscape has made it even more pertinent for Umno to institute changes fast.
As party leader, Najib can see this threat to Umno. In his interview with Bernama two days ago ahead of the general assembly, he again reminded Umno’s 3.5 million members that it was imperative that the party portrays itself as one that is willing to change for the people, in line with his 1Malaysia “people first” tagline.
But how far has Umno changed in the past three years?
Former party president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to think it is still far from recapturing its former glory.
To jog our memory of last year’s general assembly, delegates had spontaneously responded to Najib’s plea to close ranks and rise to the challenge of making Umno inclusive and respected and to retain its position as the nation’s beacon of hope.
But memories seemed to have failed for some, as observers pointed out. For instance, Umno division heads, after their meeting with Najib last February, had pledged to ensure a convincing BN victory in the general election by focusing on their merits. Instead, they have become more inclined to rely on the weaknesses of the opposition in trying to regain lost ground.
If debaters at the assembly resort to bashing the opposition alone and not articulating and addressing issues important to the people, it will not bring in a significant number of votes.
Many other things will be closely watched at the assembly, including by observers and the BN partners — like how delegates articulate their viewpoints when they raise the cry to protect Malay rights and privileges; and how they handle controversial issues like the one affecting the National Feedlot Corporation which is linked to Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Whether or not there is going to be combustible sessions during the Youth, Wanita and Puteri assemblies on Wednesday and the three-day main assembly beginning on Thursday, it is vital that speakers stay away from abrasive rhetoric that could in the end do more harm.
Source : New Straits Times