Which way is Umno headed to?

Lim Sue Goan, TMI

The limelight of Malaysian politics this week falls on the Umno general assembly which could determine the direction of the party post-GE13.

Former Supreme Council member Saifuddin Abdullah said frankly during an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily that party president-cum-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was under tremendous pressure from within the party during the Umno elections, resulting in him declaring to make the bumiputera agenda a key national agenda on September 14 in a bid to win broader support from Umno delegates.

If the bumiputera empowerment policy was only a contingency plan put forward during the party elections, then Najib would possibly reactivate the New Economic Model as soon as this pressure is removed.

I personally feel that Najib’s presidential address, the Umno assembly atmosphere and the base tone would determine whether Umno would eventually move towards moderation or more fundamentalism (further clinging onto its traditional support base).

GE13 is now seven months behind us, and over the past seven months, the political climate in this country has been gloomy, with racist remarks making occasional resurgence every now and then and transformation program laid aside. In its stead, bumi empowerment has taken the driver seat as if to herald the return of racist politics.

Having suffered the electoral setback, how will Najib instruct party leaders and members to take heed of the lacklustre response from urban, young and Chinese voters? Will they call for more assistance for the Malays?

If the focus of Umno assembly debates falls on how to reward the supporters of BN, then there will be no way for the New Economic Model running on meritocracy model to ever have a possible comeback again.

To connect with the international community, Umno has over the past few years organized international forums on the eve of the Umno assemblies. The theme for this year’s forum is “adopting moderation and principles of balanced politics towards peace and stability.” Among those attending this year’s event are heavyweight local and foreign leaders such as Hamas’ political bureau chairman Khaled Mashal.

Since Najib has been loudly advocating moderation here and abroad, his party must therefore move towards this end in a bid to accomplish the goal of national reconciliation.

Unfortunately, the 2013 undergraduates’ assembly, a precursor event of the Umno general assembly, passed 36 motions on Sunday, including a proposal to adopt a single stream education system and for the GLCs to give priority to bumiputera or bumiputera companies, among others. This shows that many people still subscribe to populism.