The numbers at tonight's Umno rally celebrating the party's 66th anniversary will be telling of the party's readiness for elections, said a party insider.
KUALA LUMPUR: Tonight’s rally at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium here will see Umno president and Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak beating the war drum as the ruling party aims to shake its enemies with a ‘show’ of unity in the run-up to national polls.
Discord and internal strive leading to a sabotage were said to be a major factor behind Umno and Barisan Nasional’s dismal performance in the 2008 general election and party sources said a united Umno will be key to securing a stronger win.
Party officials told FMT that Najib is likely to plead for unity, calling on members to set aside their differences and return to Umno’s “original struggle” as it faces a survival battle in the wake of a possible opposition threat to its rule.
The BN chairman has seen strong opposition to his economic liberalisation efforts particularly from the large segment of the party’s hawks, who observers say see the new policies as a threat to their interests.
Najib, voicing his intention to open up the economy, had said that the time for “rent-seeking was over” and that a more competitive environment was needed to drive the Malaysian economy forward.
This meant a freer market and the end of race-based protectionist policies that opposition leaders claimed had fattened only a group of powerful Malay elites, who in turn finance Umno’s war chest in a relationship that has kept the party in power for 52 years.
Fear of a potential voter backlash from the party’s Malay power-base, however, has forced the premier to be on the defensive and backtracked on several of his liberalisation programmes including maintaining race-based affirmative action policies which analysts said have taken a toll on the economy.
Analysts opined that market sentiments were sufficiently accommodating for a delay but warned that the Malaysian economy risked stagnant growth if the promised reforms are not in place.
They also said that it could threaten Najib’s promise to transform the country into a “high income nation” by 2020.
This triggered rumours of snap polls but several political setbacks had forced Najib to delay calling for national polls up until now.
A combination of strong growth for 2011, cash handouts and potential windfall from his slew of political reforms announcements have pushed up the premier’s popular rating, creating a feel good factor, enough, to weigh in on Najib’s confidence to hold elections in the upcoming months.
But Umno leaders said internal unity remain a concern for the Umno president and as polls near, it is yet to be tested.
“So the rally will be a way for Najib to test the party’s unity and at the same time also its machinery and mobilisation strength,” said one party source.
It is understood that no “tokens” were given to participants for this rally celebrating Umno’s 66th anniversary unlike other events where division leaders are often forced to pay or spend for members to show up.
“Najib is trying to test the sincerity of Umno members,” he said, adding that the numbers in tonight’s rally will be telling of the party’s readiness for elections.
Analysts said only with a stronger mandate can the BN chairman survive a possible internal revolt at the upcoming party polls and carry on his economic reform efforts with little opposition.