The curtain has been lifted on the Umno general assembly, and the local media will not have to worry about a lack of fresh news over the next couple of days.
But, for the need of maintaining the heat in the run-up to the next general election, the assembly will not get excessively hot nor lukewarm. It needs to muster sufficient heat to boost the members’ morale but should also not go overboard as to incite the indignation of non-party members or the minorities.
During Pak Lah’s time, Umno assemblies were always fiery, exploding with racial and religious issues and making Chinese Malaysians easy targets of their verbal assaults. The sparks in Umno assembly later spread to the overall society, souring relations and creating confrontation.
That explosiveness did not seem to go well with Pak Lah’s moderate and Mr Nice Guy image, giving rise eventually to public distrust towards the former PM.
Many may not be aware that Pak Lah’s weakness stemmed from his inability to take control of his party.
He was an indecisive president and many opted to blast off during the party’s general assembly in a show of defiance, while opportunists seized the opportunity to raise racial and religious issues to ignite the wrath and fury of non-Malay communities.
Pak Lah not only failed to firm up his hold during the assemblies, but had his weaknesses exposed through them. As a result, his image was tainted further and public frustration grew in strength.
In the end, he had to leave office being unable to put things in order.
If the party president is unable to dominate the assembly, he will instead be dominated by it. If he is unable to control his people, his position will be thinned out by them. O
As for Najib, he is adopting a policy of appeasement to effectively bring all rival factions all under him, thus minimizing discordant voices and chances of defiant leaders creating trouble during the general assembly.
After several assemblies, Najib has built himself an incontestable position in the party, and the 1MDB scandal has never been exploited by his opponents to sabotage him in the assembly. In its stead, he has made use of the assembly to shore up his support in the party, culminating in the exclusion of Muhyiddin Yassin.
Najib has also appointed Hishammuddin as chairman of the resolutions committee. All resolutions and debates have been filtered beforehand.
Hishammuddin has to make sure all the debates at Umno assemblies would go as Najib has wished. Since everything is well under control, the heat is remarkably suppressed. Delegates will stay away from sensitive racial and religious issues, a clear departure from during Pak Lah’s time.
Unlike the past few assemblies, Najib is focusing his firepower wholly on Pakatan Harapan this year, with Mahathir and DAP right in the bull’s-eye.
Unable to be completely weaned from Malay nationalism and Islam, Umno will continue to bank on ketuannan Melayu to secure the support of party members as well as the Malay society.
Meanwhile, Najib as the prime minister of this country and Umno as the backbone of the ruling coalition, he will still try to win the approval of non-Malay communities, at least not to offend them further.
For years the party has been drifting between the two extremes of ethnic-centric ideology and national interests. Najib indeed desires to strike a balance but how far can Umno go will depend on how things go in this year’s assembly.