With Umno soothed, Najib looks to keep Putrajaya
ANALYSIS, Oct 22 — Having reaffirmed the unassailability of the Malay special position, the primacy of Islam and Umno’s dominant political role, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has effectively won the party’s delegates to his leadership.
If there were many Perkasa-type doubters in the assembly who questioned his ability to lead Umno and protect Malay pre-eminence, they have been vanquished.
With his stand, Najib has effectively seized the agenda of right-wing elements in his party — who preyed on fears of a loss of power by Malays to further their own causes — firmly folded in into his own.
The party’s 61st general assembly has provided Najib with the ideal platform to get the party united and solidly behind him, as well as to sound a call to arms to Umno’s 3.5 million members to get ready for the coming general election.
There, the Umno president has dispelled fears from within his party — most notably characterised by the rise of Malay rights group Perkasa — that he had been soft on the issue of the special position of the Malays, that his 1 Malaysia concept was ceding too much ground.
Right wing Malay leaders had also watched with anxiety and questioned Najib’s commitment to defending Umno and the elaborate system of economic, political and social power that has grown under it and now seen to be under assault.
Najib’s answer to the party congress is simple — nobody can do anything to change or rewrite the rules, making criticisms of his “softness” moot.
In his speech, Najib spelled out how the special position of the Malays had ample safeguards and that nobody can subtract or change constitutional guarantees as this would ultimately require the consent and approval of the Malay rulers.
There was standing applause when he connected these guarantees with the rallying call to members to defend Putrajaya with their all.
By irrevocably linking Umno with these guarantess, however, the unstated message was that if party loses hold of power, Malays would similarly lose their pre-eminence.
With his final words, he urged Umno to battle for Putrajaya with their blood, sweat and their lives, was a call to battle against Umno’s enemies — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in general and PKR together with its de facto leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in particular.
Najib’s has with his speech not only reconnected with the liberals but has won over the doubters.
“He has the party completely behind him,” a foreign diplomat who is a veteran political observer, told The Malaysian Insider.
“He is readying Umno to face the big live or die election battle... he probably might call a general election within the next 12 months,” the diplomat said. “His moves point to that.”
But Najib’s overt call for Umno members to protect their power base “at all cost” has also raised eyebrows, leading some to believe that it signalled an end to the thus far civil tussles between BN and PR.
While PR leaders see the “at all cost” speech as a sign of the BN lynchpin’s fears and desperation to prevent the opposition coalition from seizing federal power, they have also urged their supporters to be wary of Umno’s true intentions.
Unhappy with Najib’s fiery rhetoric and seeing in it a threat to democracy, they have also urged Umno to be “responsible and moderate in speech and actions,”
For Najib, however, it is a delicate balancing act between winning over Umno moderates and keeping the right-wing elements in the party at bay.
Pleasing PR’s sensitivities, in that sense, is the least of his concerns.
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