“Advantageous” to postpone BN convention

By Deborah Loh The Nut Graph

KUALA LUMPUR, 30 Jan 2009: Some Barisan Nasional (BN) component leaders prefer letting the new Umno leadership, to be elected in March, take charge of the BN convention which aims to repair the coalition's tattered image.

This means that the convention could be postponed to after February, once Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi steps down.

The convention was Abdullah's idea. It was meant to heal rifts within the coalition and to regain public support following the BN's losses in the March 2008 general election.

It was tentatively set for 14 Feb, although there are unconfirmed speculations of a postponement.

A few component party leaders contacted by The Nut Graph said a postponement to after March would allow the new Umno leadership under Datuk Seri Najib Razak to firmly take charge of strategies moving forward.

Gerakan deputy president Datuk Chang Ko Youn said it would be good for the new leadership to "take over, sit down with us and map a strategy forward together".

"The convention is not meant to be a farewell function for Pak Lah (Abdullah). It is meant to map out the BN's strategy for the future. We should let the new leadership give their input."

People's Progressive Party president Datuk M Kayveas said Najib's leadership could provide fresh momentum to BN component parties to reform themselves post-2008 general election.

"Under new leadership, people will have higher expectations and more energy. If the convention is held under Abdullah, it would be more like a going-away convention rather than one for the future," he said in a phone interview.

Kayveas said Najib had chosen "One Malaysia" as the convention's theme, which reflected the shared aspirations of all the component parties.

"The convention will identify the changes BN needs to undergo and how to keep it relevant to political stability and unity. It has been actively planned, save for finalising the date," he added.

Chang said the various component parties have forwarded their views on the convention to the BN management meeting, but the decision on whether to hold it next month or after March is still being debated.

Date not decided

"The BN management committee hasn't decided when to hold it yet," BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor told The Nut Graph today.

The BN management committee is chaired by deputy prime minister Najib, who will take over as Umno president from Abdullah in March at the party assembly. The committee's members include the presidents and deputy presidents of the BN component parties.

Tengku Adnan, who is also Umno secretary-general, added that the party supreme council meeting did not discuss the BN convention last night despite a media report that a postponement of the convention would be on the agenda.

Too late

Kayveas said a postponement might also be good because Umno and MIC were currently distracted by their respective party and presidential elections that will both be held in the same month.

However, Chang said the advantage of holding the convention before the Umno election would be to get Abdullah's input.

"Since he is stepping down, he might be more daring to make changes. These are the views being taken into consideration by the (BN management) committee," Chang said.

Kayveas added, however, that whether the convention was held before or after the Umno polls, it was being held "too late" because a year had passed since the general election.

"It's not a good impression on people, in their minds, they haven't seen any improvement in the BN," he said.

No difference

One BN component party leader with a slightly different view was United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

He said people should not make too much out of whose leadership the convention would be held under.

"It is for the whole Barisan, so it does not matter who is BN chairperson at the time. What is more important is that the convention helps the component parties to work in unison and to tackle issues together," Dompok told The Nut Graph.

He said all parties should be allowed to speak freely on key issues affecting the country. He identified these as good governance and the use of language, such as the on-going dispute on the use of the word "Allah" in the Catholic publication, Herald.

Another key issue for Upko is Umno's relationship with the other BN component parties. Umno has been perceived as "bullying" its junior partners into submission.

"Even Umno knows this, they are saying they ought to change," Dompok noted.

MCA president Datuk Ong Tee Keat declined to comment while MIC leaders could not be reached.