Commentary Politics

A rather bewildering assembly without clear signs on Umno’s future

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Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

September 30, 2018

ONE thing many of those familiar with the annual Umno general assembly over the years noticed at this year’s event was the overly conspicuous presence of the “kaum ibu“, the term used in years gone by of the party’s women folk, especially those from the small towns and rural areas.

It was not as if their presence was overwhelming but just that this time less of the men were seen and that was most unusual for the party that had only in May lost its grip on the federal government together with its Barisan Nasional coalition partners.

Maybe that defeat disheartened the men more then the women…..

The turnout by the grassroots members was poor and the mood on the ground was far from being joyous and celebratory and thus what a contrast it was to the assemblies of previous years.

The other equally noticeable sign was the consistently stern rejection over a proposal for a unity government with Pakatan Harapan that was mooted by party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in the run-up to assembly.

“We are open (to establish a unity government) before or after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PKR presiden-elect) becomes prime minister. The sooner the better,” Zahid told the News Straits Times newspaper on Thursday.

While he did not openly reject the plan, Zahid’s deputy Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan had made it clear in his keynote address on Friday that political manoeuvring is not what Umno needs right now.

“For now we need to forget about our lust for power. Umno needs to rebuild and it must re-acquire its moral compass,” said Mohamad in very clear terms.

Youth chief Datuk Dr. Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki appeared to be on the same page with Mohamad, stressing that the party’s cooperation must only be with parties from the opposition bloc.

And the salvos hurled by the respective chief of Wanita and Puteri towards Pakatan leaders during the two-day meeting were enough indication of their stand against forging an alliance with the coalition that is now ruling the country.

This shows that leaders of the three wings have come to terms with the new reality and that the only power grab they are interested in is the one through the ballot box.

The reciprocal signal from Zahid was rather confusing.

In his winding-up speech today, he spoke glowingly about how cooperation with these in the opposition will be a winnable tactic in the next general elections while also saying that the unity-government plan has not been consigned to the rubbishbin.

“It (Umno becoming a part of the government) can happen in four to five years or even tomorrow. Political parties are not static; they are dynamic.

“We don’t know what will happen in the future… we must be ready to embrace changes,” said  Zahid.

The signs that many delegates found the idea objectionable were most definitely there today.

And the most tell-tale hint was probably the lack of applause that Zahid received on announcing that he will chair a special committee tasked with charting a new path for Umno.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]