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Upholding Umno

WITH Umno elections around the corner, much of the traditional Malay-language press spent time ruminating on the party general assembly that will be held from 24 to 28 March 2009.

From 16 to 22 March 2009, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam’s inability to contest in the party polls dominated the news; interviewers quizzed Datuk Seri Najib Razak on the Umno leader’s hopes and feelings; and columnists advised against dissent.

Assuming power

On 22 March, Mingguan Malaysia ran an interview with Umno deputy president Najib in Bentuk pasukan pembaharuan. When asked how he felt about the prospect of attending the Umno general assembly as deputy president for the last time, the president-in-waiting replied:

“It is a moment that touches me, personally. All my patience and determination, where I rose level by level, never fighting anyone, never fighting anyone in the history of my life, in the end I get to be, insya-Allah, Umno president. So I feel that this is a reward for all my patience and determination.”

When answering questions about the formidable challenges his premiership is set to face, the soon-to-be prime minister drew parallels between himself and Tun Abdul Razak: “Maybe there are some similarities between now and when my father took over in 1970. At that time our country had experienced the bitter incidents of 13 May, and the political situation was unclear in several states, including Penang, Perak and Selangor.”

In his interview with Berita Minggu titled Umno perlu laksana misi pembaharuan perkasa semula parti, Najib spoke about the importance of the new Umno leadership team “being open, meaning we have to be ready to carry out reform and change.”

He also acknowledged his powerlessness in dealing with endemic money politics in the party, with regards to the upcoming elections: “I am aware that it all falls to the power of the delegates, and I can only ask and beg that they choose with their hearts and conscience.”

Punished for money politics

On 17 March, the Umno disciplinary committee announced its decision to punish Ali for infractions against the party’s code of ethics, thereby preventing him from running for the deputy presidency in the Umno general assembly. Among others, Berita Harian reported this on 18 March in Mohd Ali dilarang tanding. This was conventionally interpreted as a step by the party to appear tough on corruption.

In Tindakan Lembaga Disiplin untuk pulih imej Umno, Berita Harian‘s editors argued that Ali should take his barring from the race with “calm and an open heart”, affirming that the disciplinary committee “is working to take care of the party’s good name.”

“We hope that rumours or SMSes that allege Mohd Ali is a political victim of certain quarters do not arise,” the editorial said. This anticipated questions doubting the disciplinary committee’s impartiality, as their actions — against 15 Umno members including Ali and Umno Youth chief candidate Khairy Jamaluddin — appeared to be targeting personalities aligned with outgoing Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

On 20 March, Utusan Malaysia ran Tiada konspirasi – Najib as its headline, with both the premier-designate and Ali himself denying political conspiracy in the disciplinary committee’s verdict.

Full loyalty

On the same day, Berita Harian published Calon kepemimpinan perdana Umno perlu elak tujuh perkara, which had Jamhariah Jaafar advising Umno supporters and members to stop expressing anger or discontent. “Criticism and condemnation will not help. Every conscious soul should look for the best formula to restore Umno’s scratched image.

“All Umno members specifically, and the Malay race in general, have to re-evaluate the struggle that all this while has placed our indigenous race as the rulers of the nation called Malaysia,” the writer declaimed.

Jamhariah characterised any effort or action aimed at weakening Umno, the “cornerstone of racial might”, as a “traitorous movement that, if not stopped, could bring down the Malay government.” The writer quoted Datuk Seri Abdul Ghani Othman’s book Hidup Melayu Bersatu, which has the Johor menteri besar saying that “Umno’s struggle demands the full loyalty of the Malay people.”

In Masa membuat pilihan yang kritikal in Berita Minggu on 22 March, Johan Jaafar affirmed that “Umno is more important than any one individual. That’s the formula that will ensure Umno’s survival.”

According to Johan, the new leadership line-up would “either help in the process of Umno’s recovery, or support its fall.”

“Najib can’t do it alone,” Johan continued, revealing that the new premier wanted a group of leaders that would not only be respected by Umno members or Malay Malaysians, but all Malaysians.

In the opposition

Independent or opposition-aligned politicians had limited coverage last week.

Datuk Wira Syed Ali Alhabshee (Source: umnobahagiancheras.
The most notable story about the opposition was Zaid, Anwar cuba jatuhkan Najib, on the front page of Sinar Harian‘s 20 March edition. The report quoted Cheras Umno chief Senator Datuk Wira Syed Ali Alhabshee as alleging that the recent statement by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim was planned by PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar, as an attempt to break Umno and prevent Najib’s ascension.

“Zaid has no right to get involved in Umno’s affairs, much less band together with Anwar to bring Najib down. This act cannot be taken lightly, and must be strongly opposed,” Syed Ali said.

He also accused Zaid and Anwar of somehow having a hand in engineering talks between Najib and PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. The allegations had the hallmarks of a bona fide conspiracy theory, and were no less perplexing.

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