KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — The clarion call for unity was sounded repeatedly today at Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s presidential briefing to Umno members here, as the party prepared itself for its final huddle before the general election.
To the over 5,000 delegates from the country’s largest political party, the Umno president’s message was a stern one — stand united or be prepared to face defeat — and many appeared charged as they left the briefing this evening.
They said that Najib, the country’s sixth prime minister, had reminded them of the importance of loyalty in ensuring that Umno, the backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, stays ahead in the political war that has continued to rock the country since Election 2008.
Najib, they said, wasted no words in again pointing to how internal sabotage had nearly wiped BN from federal politics during the last election — a warning that they claim many members have taken heed of.
“He reminded party members of things that could destroy us like internal sabotage.
“He said that what is important is for us to offer our undivided support to whichever candidate is selected to represent us and he stressed that if we are not united, whomever this candidate is, he will surely lose,” Puteri Umno chief Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid told reporters outside Dewan Merdeka at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).
Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the prime minister told the party’s grassroots members and leaders to work hard to ensure that BN is given a fresh mandate in the next polls.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said Najib had insisted on unity as the key to the party’s success, adding that the prime minister urged for better organisation among party members when preparing for the polls.
He reminded those present that BN had won in eight of the 16 by-elections held since Election 2008, adding that this was a clear indicator that support has returned to the ruling pact.
“This should motivate Umno-BN into working even harder because if there are those who claim that Umno is no longer relevant... here is the proof, and an overall victory can be achieved if our machinery, our members work as one,” the Bagan Datoh MP said.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, also Umno vice-president, said Najib’s message today will set the tone for the party’s general assembly, which will go on until Saturday.
He said unity was important to ensure the party’s survival, adding that it was crucial for those attending the meet to carry out the prime minister’s wishes.
“Finally, do not sabotage the party or insult our struggles... this is a time when we will be tested. Unity is important... we must work hard if we really love the party... and we must accept the reality that the ones who determine the rise and fall of Umno are not just its members but the people out there,” the Sembrong MP said.
At Umno’s last annual meet in December last year, delegates took the “sumpah bai’ah” (oath of allegiance), a symbolic move by the party to prevent infighting and internal sabotage ahead of national polls.
At the time, Najib had told the crowd of 5,477 delegates that the coming polls would be “the most critical” to date for the ruling party, repeatedly reminding members of the importance of standing united.
“The bai’ah oath led by my deputy (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) earlier reflects our readiness to put aside differences as well as actions that could threaten the party.
“I hope we can fulfil this promise,” the prime minister had explained later.
In a similar message today, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said Najib had stressed unity as the key to the party’s success, adding that the prime minister urged for better organisation among party members when preparing for the polls.
“To defend our position, the best form of defence is offence. When we say offence, it means that we must meet with the people, we must tell them of our vision and our direction so that they can understand it better,” he said.
Kuala Kangsar MP and Umno veteran Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said if Umno delegates took heed of the prime minister’s warning and realised that some of the party’s losses in Election 2008 had been due to internal sabotage, the party could score well in the coming polls.
“If we... overcome these problems, we will not repeat these mistakes we made, I can tell you, we will win big,” the former Wanita Umno chief said.
Her views were shared by Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who agreed that if Najib’s requests were met, BN would likely recapture its lost two-thirds parliamentary majority.
“If we look at what happened during the last by-election, BN has begun regaining its momentum of support from the people.
“There must be strong unity in the party, there must be an election machinery that is ready, there must be a willingness to make way for new candidates,” he said.
Najib and BN lynchpin, Umno, are vying to recapture BN’s highly coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority, which it lost in the political tsunami that swept the country during the last national polls.
BN suffered historic losses in Election 2008, losing five states and its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority to opposition parties DAP, PKR and PAS, which later formed the loose coalition of Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
The defeat prompted Tun Abdullah Badawi to resign a year later as prime minister in favour of Najib, who has been tirelessly campaigning to win back support for the ruling BN.
Since then, the government has mooted unprecedented law reforms, including the repeal of the controversial British-enacted Internal Security Act (ISA).
During Umno’s last annual meet in December 2011, Najib had signalled that polls would be held soon but the Umno president had to put them off, presumably to recoup any lost support after his administration was forced to face, yet again, another massive street protest by polls watchdog group Bersih 2.0.