Johari has a plan Umno will be foolish to ignore

But the party’s misplaced arrogance and sense of entitlement are blinding it.

Ibrahim M Ahmad, Free Malaysia Today

Umno vice-president Johari Ghani must be thanking his lucky stars he was not laughed off the podium for speaking facts and putting ideas forward.

Really, Johari, Umno has no appetite for such trivialities.

In a speech delivered on Saturday, the former second finance minister had the audacity to outline a plan for the party to pursue in preparation for the 16th general election (GE 16), likely to take place only in 2027.

It was a suggestion destined to fall on deaf ears. Umno does not even know how it plans to navigate upcoming elections to the assemblies of six states which may take place as early as next month.

In truth, Umno has reason to wallow in its present state of hopelessness. The party has little or no bargaining power when it comes to seat negotiations with Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan.

Johari knows that, which is probably why he invited the party to look further down the road and start planning for GE16. He said it was important for the party to identify its candidates now rather than “at the last minute”, as is its usual practice.

He also said it was critical that the party groom these candidates into recognisable faces in their respective constituencies.

Less restricted in GE16 as it is now, Umno will be able to field candidates in as many constituencies as it wants, in the hope that a good showing will see the party dominate the next federal government.

The tame response Johari received to his proposal, however, tells Malaysia where Umno’s head is, and where its priorities lie.

Umno still thinks it is political royalty in this country. Its leaders and members still bask in the glory of winning independence in 1957 and ruling the country uninterrupted for six decades.

Some even speak as though they sat at the negotiation table pre-Merdeka and bullied the British into packing their bags and heading home.

Others appear happy to live off the fumes of past glories, like the party’s 88-seat haul at GE13 in 2013 and believing its own boast of still having 3.5 million loyal diehard members.

They will also tell you the party has an unrivalled infrastructure, which includes the largest network of branches nationwide. That most of these branches have failed to motivate the electorate in their respective constituencies to vote for Umno candidates over the last 10 years seems not to be of any significance.

Such is their misplaced arrogance and sense of entitlement.

For that reason, delegates appeared mildly amused when Johari harped on the fact that the party was now down to only 26 parliamentary seats. Still wearing rose-tinted glasses, most, if not all, of them have yet to come to terms with the party’s relegation to being a bit part player at both federal and state level up and down the country.

Such is their foolishness that Umno members still see former prime minister Najib Razak as their spiritual leader, their “Bossku”, their saviour.

They seem to think they can somehow break him out of jail, and that when they do, he will come back and sweep the election scorecard emphatically in their favour.

Meanwhile, they must put up with being led by Zahid Hamidi, who despite being named deputy prime minister does not wield much power over the government and occupies an insignificant portfolio.

On top of that, Zahid’s integrity is still under the microscope amid an ongoing multi-million-ringgit corruption case involving his Yayasan Akalbudi foundation, for which his defence has already been called.

More than six months since his party’s crushing defeat at GE15, Zahid does not appear to have drawn up any blueprint for how he intends to take the party forward. No one can blame him, since he can barely see beyond next month, especially with his trial set to resume on Aug 1.

All he could do at the general assembly was openly beg the prime minister to allot seats for Umno to contest.

With so much at stake, Anwar will struggle to find seats safe enough to appease the man without whom he would not have reached Putrajaya. Indeed, as Johari said, there are no safe seats these days.

Zahid will be lucky if Umno is allowed to defend the 16 seats it holds in Negeri Sembilan and the five it occupies in Selangor.

In the shape it presently is, the party has little or no chance of securing a meaningful presence anywhere else, which is why Johari’s proposal to look to the longer term made perfect sense.

Zahid is not helped by his deputy, Mohamad Hasan, whose only contribution over the four-day assembly was to agree with loud noises in Dewan Merdeka demanding an apology from DAP for alleged misdeeds of the past, carelessly calling it a “good suggestion”, even as the party president was distancing himself from the idea.

A more realistic move would be for Umno and DAP to acknowledge having spent far too many years using each other as punching bags in a bid to endear themselves to their respective bases.

If at all an apology is needed, it must come from the leaders of both parties – to the rakyat – accompanied by a pledge to turn the corner once and for all and work together for the common good.

That common good involves repelling the frightening Green Wave that has already engulfed three of the six states – Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, is threatening to flood Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, and will likely wash into DAP’s long-held bastion of Penang.

It also involves reversing the economy’s steep downward spiral which has seen the ringgit devalue daily, plunged the stock market and sent alarm bells ringing around every available economic indicator.

Umno must stop spewing empty rhetoric and beating hollow drums to the tune of invented issues surrounding race and religion.

Its leaders and members are only making these noises to avoid addressing the real issues affecting the rakyat, probably because they have no clue how to tackle them.

That is because increasingly over the 61 years it held on to power, the party survived by living off the largesse of the state.

Now that it no longer has control, the time has come for Umno’s leaders and members to roll up their sleeves and toil to ensure the party’s survival.

Umno is fortunate that in Johari it has a man with a plan. It must learn to listen attentively and act accordingly.