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Is change really coming to Umno?

THE first day of the 59th Umno general assembly on 24 March 2009 was coloured by three major elements. These were the banning of new media outfits from covering the event; the closed-door speech of outgoing party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi; and incoming president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech that jointly opened the Umno Wanita, Youth and Puteri wing assemblies.

Abdullah’s final private address to Umno delegates dwelt on the event most in people’s attentions: the party’s elections, which will see Najib acquiring a new line-up of adjutants, from deputy president downwards. Unity was Abdullah’s main talking point. He urged delegates to have “the right attitude” when casting their ballots, and to set aside their personal differences.

Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz shaking hands with her challenger Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil
(Pic by Zulkifli Ersal, courtesy of theSun)

Such a sentiment was echoed by Najib himself. In commenting on the head-to-head race between Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil for the post of Umno Wanita chief, Najib warned the women’s wing to “not forsake all that we have achieved thus far just because of a temporary excitement over contests for party posts. We do not want to see disunity.”

Return to course

In his address, Najib acknowledged the enormous challenges facing Malaysia’s largest political party. Umno’s setbacks, according to Najib, was the result of the party having deviated from its course. “To the perception of many, Umno has swayed far from its original struggle,” he said.

Umno has always been custodian of the Malay Malaysian race. “Umno and the Malays can never be separated. History has shown that when Umno and the Malays move as one, we rose to far greater heights than we ever thought possible,” Najib said.

“Now, we see that the Malays seem lost and weakened. Because of that there are those who dare question what has previously been agreed to and entrenched in the Federal Constitution,” he continued. “For Umno, it must remain relevant by continuing to win the hearts and minds of the Malays.”

Malay Malaysian ultra-nationalism is the Umno characteristic most often fingered when analysts look at causes for the party’s loss of influence. Many agree that a more inclusive approach to multicultural Malaysia is required if Umno seeks to remain relevant.

But, if Najib’s rhetoric is any indication, it is unlikely that Umno will abandon race-based politics any time soon.


This posturing runs counter to the incoming president’s call for reform. To enact the party’s revival, Najib said, Umno would need “leaders who are able and are themselves enablers. Leaders who dare to change and are accepting of change. Who dare to criticise and are willing to accept criticism.”

Yet when Najib touched on recent criticisms of the Barisan Nasional’s past rule, he took a defensive stance. Referencing the recent furore over the English-language instruction of Mathematics and Science (ETeMS), Najib exhorted young Malaysians to “master the English language … Learning another language does not diminish who we are as Malay [Malaysians] … Put an end to the ridiculous politicising of this issue.”

Najib’s speech at the joint opening of the Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings was televised to crowds
of Umno members, who followed proceedings from the big screen in the PWTC lobby

Perhaps the most obvious contradiction was Najib’s call for Umno to not “regard the new media as our enemy.”

Saying that the party was “rudely awakened” in 2008 when they found themselves unprepared to face the influence of the internet, the incoming party president urged Umno’s younger generation to “be able to speak the language of the cyber community … they must be leaders in the utilisation of technology as an essential part of our political arsenal.”

But while Najib spoke of embracing the new media, his party seemed intent on curtailing it. Today, Umno officials refused to grant six new-media organisations — Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, Siasah, Merdeka Review, Laksou and The Nut Graph — official access to its general assembly. “All these websites have been irresponsible in their reporting,” said Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, by way of explanation.

Despite the catchphrase of reform, is change really coming to Umno? Events in the next five days will tell — but if today is any indication, the outlook isn’t good.

See also:
Umno general assembly gets underway
Umno Youth polls crucial to party’s renewal

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11 Responses to “Is change really coming to Umno?”

  1. Lainie Yeoh says:

    Shahrizat and Rafidah actually shook hands, I almost expect to see the limbs turn black and fall off.

  2. wada says:

    Shake hands? Shahrizat’s fingers not even grasping.

  3. Hamba says:

    Umno has always been custodian of the Malay Malaysian race. Wrong! Umno was the custodian of Malays but what we have now is Umno Baru! It’s the custodian of cronies and Umnoputras. History will be twisted and changed. Umno, protector of the Rulers and Malays? History, the actual history, has exposed Najib’s lies in his opening address. He has started lying even before becoming PM!

  4. justine says:

    Actions speak louder than words and this is a classic example of rhetoric espoused by the incoming PM.

    What comes to mind is an insincere, arrogant and a selfish leadership that looks after its own kind/race.

  5. Andrew I says:

    They’re shaking momentarily retracted claws, actually.

  6. Ethan says:

    “Transparency is bad”, “Ketuanan Melayu”, “Non-Muslims are second grade citizens.” As long as they have these mindsets, they will never change. I can bet my whole month’s salary on it.

  7. Puteri says:

    Umno is sort of like RTM and DBP in politics. Yeah they sort of change. But the core is still there and all the fuss about changing is left as a fuss. Millions spent to promote changes in Umno but Umno will still be Umno. Like RTM will still be RTM. This is the sort of general view regarding the title.

  8. thetatt says:

    Surprise me.

  9. Ho Yew Khet says:

    “All these websites have been irresponsible in their reporting,” said Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, by way of explanation.


    I guess responsible reporting is only that which has been heavily censored by the ruling coalition … to what THEY DEEM to be “fair” and responsible. So the people don’t count I guess.

  10. Real changes are surely coming. Events of the past few weeks should clearly herald what is to be expected. Be prepared for the Long Knives and the Nights of Terror whilst the warlords and cronies pillage and rape the land.

  11. tengku mohd faizal says:

    Umno is considered changed if and only if they open their membership to all Malaysians, other than that, it’s all just nonsense.

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