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Thursday, November 29, 2012

With polls near, Najib sings reform tune


The Umno president said the party must adapt to the changing times.
ANALYSIS
KUALA LUMPUR: Repentance and reform were the main themes in Umno president Najib Tun Razak’s speech at the party’s annual general assembly today, the last before it heads for national polls soon.
The ruling Malay party will face off a much stronger opposition than in 2008 and Najib, the prime minister, said Umno must shed its past amid a changing demographics said to be more critical and demanding of the government.
Observers have noted that this year’s assembly will likely see Najib dragging the party back to the centre after its hardline politics had alienated the non-Malays and much of the young whose support is crucial for the prime minister’s own liberal reform agenda.
But one of the key obstacles to this agenda is opposition from conservative within his own ranks who analysts predict are likely to sabotage the candidates picked by the Umno president.
Sabotage was seen as a key factor behind Umno and Barisan Nasional’s record losses in 2008. It lost five states and its two-thirds parliamentary majority and it gave rise to a more potent and confident opposition.
Although no final decisions have been made on the candidates, Umno insiders said Najib is likely to sideline the hawks in favour of those that will support his open policies.
This, the insiders added, could divide the party.
To date, Umno leaders had shied away from commenting on the candidates’ list, an issue party insiders said signalled the severity of the problem. This could also partially influenced Najib’s decision to delay holding the general election this year.

Survival
Najib’s speech today reflected his concerns over such problems and the country’s sixth premier again touched on the need for unity as a divided Umno would mean the end of its 55-year rule.
“We can no longer depend on the nostalgia of the old to bring us victory.
“The 13th general election brings us with only one choice: either we as an individual and collectively want a victory for the party or otherwise,” he told the assembly held in Dewan Merdeka, Putra World Trade Centre, here.
But analysts remain sceptical that Umno can pull off the reform image as the underlying opposition to political and economic liberalisation remains strong within the party.
Much of the hardline politics now seen as synonymous with Umno’s annual meetings would have been given much play if not for the “gag order” imposed on delegates in last and this year’s assembly.
Najib, however, appeared confident that his party will play as a team when the time comes but only on the basis of survival.
If many of the perks the party’s patrons enjoy are to continue, Umno must remain in power. This means the party’s powerful hawks will also have to play along.

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