Commentary Politics

Umno beats to an established template

The finale to the 2017 Umno general assembly.

The finale to the 2017 Umno general assembly.

Written by Aziz Hassan

Recollections & Reflections

WITH the country’s biggest annual political assembly over, speculation now turns to when the 14th general elections will be called, with sometime in February being a popular pick.

A friend who works for Umno described the mood at the assembly as one that was upbeat in looking forward to GE14, confident that, despite the hiccups, Umno will lead its Barisan Nasional allies first past the post.

That Umno should have that extra bounce heading into GE14 doesn’t fit into how things had evolved in the last several years after the poor showing in the last two GEs but what is obvious is that the opposition has failed to capitalise on the momentum gained from there. Worse, it looks to be in disarray, with statements and actions indicating the absence of a firm hand leading from the front. Second echelon leaders are not on the same page with the big names in the parties that make up the opposition bloc, like on the choice of prime minister-designate although a meeting of the group of five did endorse former prime minister/Umno president Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as their choice. Mahathir was among the five. Kind of titillating that while recycling the world over is for discarded plastics, bottles and cans to make for a cleaner environment, over here it’s about a politician who ruled for 22 years and is now 92 years old. That’s the Malaysia Boleh spirit for you.

Journalists who familiar with Umno since three or four decades ago and who continue to keep track of the party from a distance can vouch that this excitement within the Umno ranks is one that is felt at each assembly that immediately precedes a GE. This is the time when the determination shown via the declaration of support for the leadership and the pledge of being united are heard loudest.

What it means is that in almost all aspects Umno remains very much unchanged, with the same template used each year, the format remaining the same although this year’s assembly was intended to arouse the sentiments among members so that they’ll be well prepared for battle. Whether their respective election machinery is ready is a big question. Some members met at the assembly didn’t think so.

When a journalist asked a senior headquarters official why the proceedings inside the hall didn’t spend more time on discussion matters related to GE14 except during the debate on politics, his reply was a simple “We keep to the Umno traditions”.

So it remains the same in terms of the resolutions debated, how the speakers are selected and the contents of their debates pre-determined and just as significantly, in the rhetoric.

This year’s decision to not have a contest for the top two posts was also a position adopted many times before. Records show that when these posts were challenged this happened usually due to a vacuum – or when there is no elected incumbent in the chair or the person occupying it was holding the post in the interim.

 There were exceptions no doubt but there were only a few, like when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Musa Hitam (now Tun) to be deputy president in the early 80s, when the man in a hurry Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim challenged (Tun) Ghafar Baba also to be the number two in 1993 which caused Ghafar to throw in the towel when the nominations clearly went against him.

This talk about a contest causing a split in the ranks seems to be misguided because there were no reports on this after the Musa-Razaleigh contest or when Tunku Abdul Rahman was challenged as president in 1951 or when then president (Tun) Hussein Onn was challenged by Sulaiman Palestine in 1978 in the immediate post-Datuk Harun Idris crisis.

A major split though happened in the much referred to Team A-Team B fight in 1987 but this was a rare exception, in fact the only time something of this magnitude has happened in Umno’s history since 1946.

Rare because this was a contest pitting two heavyweights on one side against another two of almost equal weights on the other. Together the challengers had behind them close to half of the party supreme council members who were also in the government.

In Umno the change in mood and support for decisions by the leadership often happens back in the divisions when election time draws nearer, especially when it’s time to choose the electoral candidates. That’s when bits of the pledges made a few months earlier at PWTC are thrown out of the window by those hoping to be picked to contest.

It is because of these circumstances that the critics and detractors tend to nit-pick on Umno and its members. While the world around us has evolved and in certain sectors or lifestyles have changed beyond recognition, Umno doesn’t seem to have followed suit.

If you believe most of what is written on social media you may be convinced that this is the GE when Umno and its Barisan Nasional allies will finally lose control of the country.

But for that to happen Umno will have to lose more seats than ever before in the peninsular and also for its allies in Sabah and Sarawak to go the same route.

Despite the contempt written by haters, especially on social media, there are not enough clear signs that indeed GE14 will see the end of BN’s hold on the federal government and that too can be taken to mean that it is not only Umno that hasn’t changed dramatically to upset the status quo.

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.