KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — The conclusion of the annual general assembly yesterday shows that Umno is back on track and has set a clear direction on how it intends to take back Putrajaya.
This is in contrast to last year’s annual general meeting (AGM) where the party was still trying to reorganise itself after its shock defeat in the May 9 general elections and a polarising party election.
This year, after a string of by-election wins attributed to Umno and PAS’ political cooperation, party members appear reinvigorated and upbeat as it readies itself to face the 15th general election.
Party leaders this year have set a more determined direction by taking advantage of the rakyat’s frustration over the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration’s perceived failures.
Here are the three main things that we learned from the Umno 2019 AGM:
Muafakat Nasional is in; BN not so much
The main narrative during Umno’s AGM was heard loud and clear this year as the party now intends to go all in with its political cooperation with PAS, under the Muafakat Nasional Charter.
Whatever doubts party leaders or members had, they have been silenced as the political cooperation has yielded positive results, as seen with the recent Tanjung Piai by-election, which Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng won with a 15,086-vote majority.
Throughout the four-day affair, delegates from all levels spoke about Muafakat Nasional as the grand strategy that will balance out the number of Umno and PAS lawmakers in the Dewan Rakyat and state assemblies, with the ultimate goal of wresting federal control.
Many also stressed that Muafakat Nasional is the new political discourse that is good for all races while refuting claims that the political cooperation will oppress other races.
In his closing speech, party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed that the Umno headquarters at Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur will be the home to a joint secretariat between the two Malay-based parties.
It will be helmed by the secretary-generals of both parties as well as respective deputy presidents.
However, the BN coalition, of which Umno has been the lynchpin since its formation in 1973, was barely discussed.
Although Puteri Umno chief Datuk Zahida Zarik Khan pointed out that the Tanjung Piai win is proof that BN is still alive and relevant, questions still abound as to how Umno’s long-time allies MCA and MIC will fit into Muafakat Nasional.
At the same time, there were also voices of caution regarding the alliance with their former rival for Malay votes.
Perak delegate and Trong Assemblyman Jamilah Zakaria told party leaders that since they have formed Muafakat Nasional, a Shadow Cabinet is critical to ensure that the public are aware of the joint policies coming from the Umno-PAS alliance.
Both she and deputy youth chief Shahril Hamdan reminded the delegates not to get overconfident in their recent by-election victories as the support from the Chinese community might not be genuine but a form of protest against the PH administration.
No backdoor deals with PH
The clandestine meeting between 17 Umno lawmakers, including former party vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, and Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali has become a major gripe among delegates.
Many viewed the action as inappropriate and undermining the mandate of party members that Umno should not engage in any efforts to form a backdoor government.
Most notable was Penang delegate Datuk Omar Faudzar who made a veiled reference to the meeting and questioned their dignity as party leaders to resounding applause from the crowd.
Omar also pointed out that PAS and PKR were the opposition for years and never asked for an allocation from Umno.
Ahmad Zahid gave his assurances to the delegates several times that Umno will only take Putrajaya the right way, by defeating PH in the next general election.
He also promised that all MPs must go through proper party channels before they can hold any meetings with Putrajaya’s ministers.
Chin Peng’s ashes... and DAP, the constant bogeyman
Despite being dead for over six years, Chin Peng was still a hot button issue during the annual meeting. This was due to his ashes being recently smuggled into the country and scattered in Lumut and the Titiwangsa range.
Delegates found this to be an act of the “highest insult” to the thousands of civilians, police and army personnel who had died or fought the Communist threat during the Malayan emergency.
Zahid also accused Putrajaya of whitewashing the cruelty of the communists and claimed there were even plans to review the deceased communist insurgent’s role in history and portray him as a freedom fighter.
The party president condemned the government’s inaction, saying that it is akin to urinating in or desecrating the sacred waters of the ZamZam Well (Telaga ZamZam) in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
Puteri Umno Chief Datuk Zahida Zarik Khan also pointed out that the failures of the PH government to protect Malay interest stems from the coalition being subdued by “khadam politics”.
She then accused DAP of being the true power in PH, a claim which has been consistently used by Umno for many years, even before GE14.