KUALA LUMPUR, March 24, 2009 (AFP) – Malaysia’s next premier Najib Razak on Tuesday warned the ruling party it must embark on a radical overhaul to win back public support, or face the end of its half-century grip on power.
Najib’s address to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) at the start of a landmark meeting where it will elect a new leadership, is an attempt to set a new direction for the party which was humbled in March 2008 polls.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the very fate of UMNO,” said Najib, the current deputy premier, who is to succeed Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shortly after the five-day assembly concludes.
“Clearly, the results of that general election have been the worst in the history of our party,” he said, after the UMNO-led coalition lost five states and a third of parliamentary seats to the opposition.
“It is an awful and bitter truth, but a truth nonetheless and one which we must accept,” he told the party, which has floundered since the polls which redrew Malaysia’s political landscape.
“We gather here tonight not to wallow in sadness nor to lament our fate. But as a party, we are here today but for one singular purpose, that is to chart the way forward for UMNO and our struggle,” he said.
“The decision we collectively make at this assembly will determine the future of our party: whether we continue to shape and mould history, or just become an entry in the annals of history.”
The assembly was launched with a speech by Abdullah, who is to step down after a disappointing six years in power during which he failed to implement promised political reforms including tackling corruption.
UMNO delegates will Thursday anoint Najib as the new UMNO president, and cast their votes for key roles including deputy president and heads of the youth and women’s wings.
In line with UMNO custom, Najib is succeeding Abdullah unopposed. The party chief traditionally becomes prime minister and leader of the Barisan Nasional coalition of race-based parties.
Najib urged the delegates to choose wisely as they select the new leadership, and to reject vote-buying which is endemic in the party.
“We must resolve to eradicate money politics right down to the roots. If not, we will all be collectively responsible for the demise of this beloved party of ours.”
He called for a new attitude within the party, which is seen as self-interested and out of touch, and said it must embrace a new generation of voters who are “better informed, very demanding and highly critical.”
He urged members to embrace online media, which have become a phenomenon in Malaysia, successfully exploited by the opposition, which has been shut out of the government-linked mainstream media.
“Like it or not, we cannot regard the new media as our enemy,” he said, in comments that came shortly after party officials said they had barred several online news portals from covering the UMNO assembly.
Despite the talk of reform, there are concerns that from its position of weakness, the party may reject calls for liberalisation and instead choose to shore up its support among conservatives.
Political observers say recent events, including sedition charges against an opposition veteran for criticising a Malay royal ruler, and the banning of two opposition newspapers, indicate a hardline approach could be in the offing.
Najib is expected to be sworn into power by the king in the first days of April but no date has been announced, giving rise to speculation that Abdullah may be reluctant to step down.
After emerging from his speech to delegates, the outgoing leader defended the lack of a formal plan.
“I know what I am supposed to do. There is no need to disturb me,” he told reporters.
Copyright 2009 AFP
Source : AFP