LAST Sunday was about family matters for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The Prime Minister and his wife hosted the cukur jambul for their grandson and the guests included relatives and friends. But everyone noted the presence of many members of the royal family at the event.
The cukur jambul ceremony is an important rite of passage for a Malay baby and Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V did the honours of snipping off strands of the baby’s hair.
Outwardly, it was just a social event. But with the Umno general assembly starting this week, many could not help but read it as a sign of the warm ties between Najib and the royals.
Internal party polls show that his popularity ratings have steadily climbed to the high 30s. Najib is now the king of the hill given that there is no other alternative centre of power in the party.
He has held his own against the attacks by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his party has rallied behind him against Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and he has managed to contain the fallout from the 1MDB issue.
And as some have pointed out, he is now the third longest-serving Prime Minister after Dr Mahathir and Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Everyone is expecting Najib to beat the war drums. This is the last big party gathering before the mother of all elections and everyone, whether friend or foe, will be watching closely at everything that comes out from PWTC.
Najib’s presidential address in a normal year usually revolves around politics and policies. But it is likely to be politics all the way this time around and the cannons will be pointing outwards.
“I think he will stress that this election is about an Umno-led coalition versus a DAP-led coalition. That is the choice before us,” said Najib loyalist and supreme council member Datuk Seri Sharkar Shamsudin.
There is a great deal of bitterness about Dr Mahathir’s bid to destroy Umno. Last year, they skirted around the issue of Dr Mahathir but there is no need to tip-toe anymore now that Dr Mahathir has been annointed the leader of Pakatan.
The enemy line is clearly drawn although any attack on their former president-turned-enemy will be done the “Malay way”, without using rough words or being too direct.
The bitterness has deepened with news that Pakatan Harapan has named Dr Mahathir as their prime minister candidate.
But attacking the other side is only part of the agenda.
“Our president wants to list down the achievements of the Government and his track record as PM. He wants to show that while the Opposition is only good at blaming and accusing, he is focused on delivering and achieving.
“He also wants to highlight what the Government has in store for the people and why it is worth supporting his coalition in the general election,” said Sharkar, who is also a Pahang exco member.
Najib is very clear on what he needs to do and how it can be done.
For instance, during dialogues with Umno leaders in the run-up to the general assembly, he has been firm about proposals to take Umno down the “Malays road”.
“Some party leaders want him to stress cooperation with PAS in the general election. But he told us that while Umno and PAS are on a warmer footing, as the leader of Barisan, he needs to respect what his friends and allies in Sabah and Sarawak want.
“It is not just what Umno wants, but also what our partners want,” said Sharkar.
There are also moves in Umno to take over Malay-majority seats like Teluk Kemang from other component parties on the grounds that Umno has a better chance of winning those seats.
But Najib’s stand is that, yes, Umno can win in those seats but there will be spillover in other seats where Umno depends on non-Malay votes to do well.
“He told us that Barisan is a genuine power-sharing coalition. He asked us to look at the big picture and the need to treat out partners fairly,” said Sharkar.
Umno leaders say that Najib’s priority this week is to secure the mandate of the delegates on the thorny issue of candidates for the general election.
Sabotage and boycott are not uncommon when an Umno division chief does not get his way and Najib wants to hammer home the message that the division leaders must support election candidates picked by the party leadership.
He talked a lot about winnable candidates in the last general election but many of them became unwinnable because of sabotage on the ground.
There is also likely to be some shock and awe at this year’s gathering as the party try to show that Umno is still the party of choice among the Malays and that it is serious about leading Barisan to victory.