KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Umno must embrace youths if the Barisan Nasional (BN) lynchpin hopes to restore its waning influence in the urban centres, president Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.
Telling party leaders to come to terms with current political realities, he said there is a pressing need for the party to reinvigorate itself from within by taking on young, capable leaders from Generation-Y who will define Malaysia’s future.
“If they (youths) fill in (membership) forms, don’t suddenly lose them. After months of waiting, they don’t get (approval). They appeal at division (level) and get no news, and by the time they appeal to headquarters and Tengku Nan, it’s already one year,” he said, referring to Umno Secretary-General Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor.
“Why (does this happen)? Because there are those who are afraid they (the youths) will snatch their seats (in the party),” Najib said to roaring applause from youth delegates at the Umno Federal Territories Convention here.
Najib’s call for renewal echoes the position taken by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said earlier this month that Umno will only be able to retake Selangor through a complete change in leadership at the state level.
In a damning indictment of his party, Dr Mahathir said Umno will remain consigned to defeat so long as its current leaders refuse to make way for a new generation of members.
Najib today said the current crop of Umno leaders must reach out and actively engage with Malaysia’s Gen-Y, stressing that they have no choice but to connect with and enable them to become party members as an investment for the future.
The prime minister dismissed popular opinion that youths between the ages of 18 and 32 years have shunned the ruling coalition, claiming that he has seen growing support from them so long as Umno and BN put in the extra effort to interact with them.
Taking the example of the Indian National Congress party – which recently lost control of India in a hotly contested national election – Najib warned that BN could easily end up as a historical footnote if it fails to revitalise itself.
“We know the fate of the Congress party in India. This is a party that fought for (India’s) independence... we are the only ones that are still in power today. The rest are no longer there, but we are still in power.
“But if we want to continue to be in power, we must carry on with renewal of the party. We must find leadership that is considered to be capable... Umno must be seen as modern, dynamic and progressive,” he said.
Najib also told his party to change tack in dealing with the “lies and spinning” allegedly perpetrated by the national opposition, urging Umno’s machinery to get well acquainted with social media and 21st century communication.
Claiming that they are “victims” of politics of perception, he stressed that Umno must come to terms with the need for open public engagement to counter whatever negative publicity that is bandied against them.
“We cannot now close down Facebook, nor can we close down Twitter, because the world has changed,” he said, referring to two popular social media sites.
“That is not the answer. The answer is not to clamp down. The answer is that in this open and new environment, Umno must be seen as the champion (of public engagement),” he said.