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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Umno's show of numbers beats Bersih 5, Act 355 rally, but...

Umno last night set a record for the largest rally turnout in the past 12 months, with 80,000 supporters in red flooding the Bukit Jalil national stadium to put on a show of strength.
While the party's 71st anniversary celebration failed to fill the stadium - over a third of the seats were empty – the turnout was still double the estimated 40,000 participants for Bersih 5 last November, and surpassed even the 55,000-strong gathering at PAS' Act 355 assembly in February.
The turnout was good enough to embolden Umno president Najib Abdul Razak to tease about snap elections.
"If Parliament is dissolved tomorrow, are we ready (for elections)?" he asked, and was met with a resounding "yes" from the enthusiastic crowd.
Najib said the attendance was just a fraction of three million members that Umno boasts.
But the bravado and political muscle flexing comes at a time when support for Umno may be at its lowest ever, making the next election the party's toughest yet.
A survey published this January by the opposition PKR-linked Invoke, found that Malay support for Umno was at just about 40 percent.
Reuters has also reported Umno insiders as being concerned that rising costs of living may turn civil servants against the ruling Malay party.
Meanwhile splinter group Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) - under the guidance of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad - is becoming a growing threat to Umno's grip on its Malay support base.
The writing on the wall is clear - this could be it for Umno.
Keeping up appearances?
Growing jitters may be why the ruling party opted for a major rally to mark the less-than auspicious 71st anniversary, as compared to the more low-key 70th anniversary celebration at the Putra World Trade Centre last year.
The need to keep up appearances may also have been why hundreds of university students were either forced or tricked to attend the event.
Incentives such a giveaways and free transportation in the form of a fleet of buses - which stretched several kilometres along the Kesas highway - were also employed to help make up the numbers.
But while Umno may be hiding its troubles behind a veneer of numbers, all is not yet lost for the party.
Najib still has a chance at winning the election due to a divided opposition.
Three-cornered contests against PAS and Pakatan Harapan at the polls would see the opposition votes split, which could be enough to hand Umno and BN a win under first past the post election rules.
Najib's overtures to PAS last night, and the demonising of Mahathir and the latter's new ally DAP, serves to deepen that divide in the opposition while potentially discouraging Malays from supporting Bersatu.
Amid these challenging times, Najib can also take comfort in knowing that, despite all the scandals and accusations against him, his position in the party is still secure - at least for now.
The party president was flanked by his generals last night, all of whom were standing by his side throughout his 30-minute speech.

Even the leaders of all the BN component parties showed up to give him support.
As for the supporters who were there voluntarily, those who were not devoted to Najib were at least devoted to the party.
One lady attending the rally was seen shedding tears as Najib led them in prayer for the party.
"Allah, protect those in this noble cause, protect the Malays and Umno.
"For (the Malay) race, for Umno's struggles, make our hearts one in loyalty to our leadership," the prime minister said in his five-minute prayer. -Mkini

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