UMNO vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks to the New Sunday Times on the need for the party to stay on its toes and, on a lighter note, his relationship with his boss, Datuk Seri Najib Razak
Question: What’s your message for delegates in the coming 71st Umno General Assembly?
Answer: I am sure Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, as party president, will ask delegates and observers to make preparations for the election. To wrest as many parliamentary and state seats as possible, and (winning back) the states we have lost before, teamwork is vital. We must use this assembly as a platform to achieve our goals. If anyone wishes to talk about party polls, I feel we should postpone it to next year so that we will not lose focus on the national election.
Q: Do you think this year’s assembly will be used as a platform by delegates as a self-promotion exercise to earn nomination as election candidates?
A: Whether or not a speaker or delegate wants to demonstrate their ability, that will not be the criteria for selecting election candidate because Najib as the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman has his own method. Studies have been done in terms of the individuals’ “winnability” and voters’ acceptance of them. Popularity in the party is not the main factor.
Q: How about incumbents who have contested the past few terms but refuse to make way for new faces?
A: I have met with all state and divisional leaders nationwide and in all the meetings, I’ve explained our methodology, which is based on political hierarchy. (But) this does not mean you will be nominated as a candidate even if you are a top-tier leader. I have informed them that even if you are the current member of parliament or assemblyman, you have to accept if you are not chosen when a study shows that you have low acceptance by voters.
Q: Do you think the mood of this year’s assembly will be an indicator of BN’s support?
A: We are not considering the attendance as an indicator. Our indicator will be the readiness of our machinery at the branch, division, state and parliamentary seat levels.
Nevertheless, we hope that this assembly will draw as many delegates and observers as possible for moral support. This time, we want to see our halls filled with a “red wave” on the first day and “blue wave” on the last day.
Q: In last general election, the government waited until the parliamentary term almost ended. Will BN use this to its advantage by going the full parliamentary term or will it be earlier?
A: This parliamentary term and that of state assemblies will automatically dissolve on June 24, 2018, except for Sarawak. After that date, we still have 60 days (until Aug 24, 2018) for the Election Commission to announce the election. Which means we still have a few months to prepare and plus another two months after (Parliament is dissolved). I don’t think the prime minister will use a last-minute factor to dissolve Parliament.
Q: Where does Umno stand at the moment if the election is called by early next year?
A: I’ve met all state Umno chiefs to evaluate the readiness of our machinery. I feel that there is still room for improvement, but I am confident that they are ready to face the election any time.
Q: How will Umno address issues such as the cost of living, 1Malaysia Development Bhd and property prices in the upcoming election? How are you going to convince the people that BN is still the best choice?
A: There are about 12 issues that need to be addressed by the government. We have always put these issues as our priority, especially the cost of living. Last Sunday, when chairing the cabinet committee meeting on cost of living, I asked the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry to sit down with the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry so that they could cooperate and form a task force to look into all of these issues.
Q: The prime minister described you as a “faithful companion” in his 2018 Budget speech. Can you share about your relationship with him?
A: I appreciate the words he used in the speech. I was really surprised and touched by the description. Perhaps it is due to our long ties. I was his political secretary when he was the youth and sports minister. I was appointed on Oct 1, 1987, and the friendship grew stronger over time. I have and will continue to fully serve the prime minister in the government and party.