December 2, 2012
UMNO GA 2012 Summing Up: Najib faces Internal Sabotage over Winnable Candidates
by Nigel Aw@http://www.malaysiakini.com
Every year, the UMNO General Assembly is a colourful military-precision display of unity and organisation. But underlying the careful choreography in this year’s meet is the party’s pressing problem that has become all too apparent – internal sabotage.
Although several party officials broached on the prickly subject during the five-day conference, the job of imploring everyone to be on the same page fell on Party President Najib Abdul Razak.
Almost the entire first half of his 45-minute closing speech was spent building his case for party members to accept his choice of “winnable candidates” for the coming general election.
This included name dropping two former Premiers – Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – labouring to impress the audience how the two had to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the party.
Capping his extended sales pitch Najib continued the tradition started by his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin at the last general assembly, in leading delegates in an endless loyalty oath and prayer that eventually lost steam.
Najib’s predicament is notable as previously, local party leaders had much clout in determining the choice of candidates. The system usually meant that many leaders could nominate themselves repeatedly, even if it was to the detriment of UMNO’s chances at the polls.
But the clock is ticking for Najib to rein in disgruntled local leaders, as polls are expected to be called in four months at the most.
Fractured UMNO no secret
According to political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Najib’s plan to reform the candidate selection process is clearly facing inertia and that there was a disconnect between the top leadership and local leaders.
“It is a public (open) secret that there are many camps in UMNO, all paying loyalty to different leaders.
“It is known that if one individual aligned to a particular group (becomes the candidate), the other groups may rebel by not helping out (in the general election),” he told Malaysiakini when contacted today.
Wan Saiful said that factionalism was apparent even during the AGM, as most of those who were given the opportunity to speak belonged to the old guard.
According to Wan Saiful, Najib will face a big challenge in discarding the old guard in order for his candidates plan to work because of the inherent largesse that comes with power.
“The wealth structure of UMNO leadership is closely linked to the power structure. They stand to lose a lot by losing power because it is tied with business. Najib knows he needs to put in new faces or else the electorate will punish him. But if he gets rid of the old guard, party members may punish him. So it’s a balancing act,” he said.
Candidate hopefuls on eggshells
With division leaders now unable to exert much influence on candidacy, delegates are left guessing who would earn candidacy in the next polls as Najib is keeping his cards close to his chest.
This perhaps also explains the tame nature of the 66th Umno general assembly, as delegates steered clear of controversial issues that may generate friction with other BN component parties or offend racial sensitivities, lest it jeopardise their “winnable candidate” chances.
Even the “Hidup Melayu (Long live the Malays)” chants occurred with far less frequency than at previous AGMs. Most top leaders used the more race-neutral “Hidup Umno“, “Hidup BN” and “Hidup Malaysia” to cap off their respective speeches.
“We do not want to focus too much on Malay issues because we know the government had always given attention to Malays and other races.
“Right now, we want to focus more on the future, and Malaysia’s future is after the general election,” Jasin UMNO representative Roslan Ahmad told Malaysiakini today when contacted.
Instead, delegates took aim at what they described as the “unholy trinity” in Pakatan Rakyat, in particular PAS that has grown in strength and numbers since helming three states after the 2008 general election.
PAS the main worry
Delegates and party officials told the floor that the BN Administration had been consistently implementing Islamic policies – from banking to the zakat system and Tabung Haji fund – while PAS had done little more than to brand UMNO as infidels.
To press home their message, a video of PAS’ infamous prayer for UMNO’s demise during the latter’s muktamar was played during the general assembly and put on loop play during the breaks.
The attention shift from the breakaway PKR to PAS appears to be a response to the latter’s aggressive recruitment drive of former civil servants in recent months, which include former chiefs in the police force, army, religious authorities and public service – UMNO’s traditional support bases.
Wan Saiful concurred that PAS was UMNO’s main worry in Pakatan Rakyat hence the obsession with PAS bashing.
“They (UMNO) call PAS a stooge, but the reality is if PAS was not a concern they would not be mentioning it so many times,” he said.
And although Najib played down the opposition’s strength in his winding up speech, his attempt to wade into the candidate selection process hiccups suggest he now acknowledges the serious challenge Pakatan Rakyat poses.
Wan Saiful noted that sabotage has always been an issue in UMNO, but the uphill task now is to ensure the party will not suffer the similar debacle of 2008 in the face of a formidable Opposition.
With contributions from Lee Long Hui and Kow Gah Chie.