“BOSSKU” may be popular on the ground with Malay supporters but Najib Razak won’t be given any special slot to address delegates at the party’s 73rd annual general assembly, which begins today.

Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob told The Malaysian Insight that the former prime minister and ex-party president, who is currently Barisan Nasional advisory board chairman, is indeed popular within the party and among the public.

Najib, whose only post in Umno is Pekan division chief, is “more approachable” now without the formalities and security detail that came with being prime minister, Ismail said.

And he has been an asset for Umno, flaunting his “Bossku” moniker to good advantage when campaigning in recent by-elections.

“No, Najib won’t be speaking at the assembly. Speeches will only be given by the delegates, president and deputy president. The winding up also is by the president and the deputy,” Ismail told The Malaysian Insight.

“In the past, the wing chiefs and the three vice-presidents used to handle the winding-up session.

“Back then, the vice-presidents were ministers. So, when we give speeches, it is not just political rhetoric but there would be suggestions on how to improve the ministries. Now that we’re not the government, this is not necessary any more.”

Delegates will also have more time to speak at this year’s general assembly, he said.

Days after losing the 14th general election last year, Najib resigned from his post as BN chairman and Umno president.

The mood in Umno was dark and for a while, the Malay nationalist party looked adrift at sea. Najib is not the only leader facing corruption charges. Party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor are in the same boat.

But despite his corruption charges, Najib’s popularity saw an uptick at the beginning of this year, after he adopted a Malay biker slogan “Malu apa bossku” and made it his trademark.

Najib has since used it when campaigning in by-elections and on l roadshows to several states and rural areas. To date, since GE14, BN has won four out of nine by-elections held.

Umno is also in revival mode, thanks to a political pact with former arch-rival PAS, called muafakat masional (national consensus), to ensure that the two parties no longer compete for the Malay-Muslim vote but work together to topple Pakatan Harapan in the next general election.

Najib, however, will not need a special slot to prove his popularity at the Umno general assembly, which ends on Saturday at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Ismail expects the former president will still be a draw, just with his presence.

“Look at the response he gets when he goes on a ‘Bossku’ tour, it’s very good. Everywhere he goes, he receives good response, especially from those within Umno.

“Previously, it was difficult to approach Najib because he was the prime minister but now people can take selfies with him.

“So, although he is not giving any speech, people still want to come to the assembly because they want to see him.”

Confident Umno roaring back at AGM

AFTER more than a year finding its footing as a first-time opposition party, Umno begins its second post-Putrajaya annual general assembly today in a far better mood compared with last year’s event when the bitter taste of defeat was still fresh.

“I think the mood is definitely better than the previous year when we just lost in the 14th general election,” opposition leader and Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob told The Malaysian Insight.

“We’ve won several by-elections since then – Semenyih, Cameron Highlands, Rantau and Tg Piai – and the mood is really good now.

“Our spirits are better and confidence is slowly returning,”   said Ismail ahead of the Umno AGM that begins today and ends on Saturday.

It also lost control of Perak, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Sabah, Terengganu and its birth state Johor. Umno also lost 34 federal seats in the last elections.

Since GE14, Umno has lost more of it elected representatives through defections, with several joining splinter party Bersatu.

Umno currently has 38 seats, down from the 55 it won in GE14.

Ismail, who is also Bera MP, said no one thought Barisan Nasional would lose.

“No one, especially in Umno. We felt we could win because we have done a lot for the people. And we believed that the people would accept that.

“But we did not expect national issues to bury what we had done as individual elected reps.

“We thought that by giving something to the people, they would be happy and the other issues would not be a priority. But voters have changed,” he said in the opposition leader’s office at Parliament recently.

Former Umno president and prime minister Najib Razak’s alleged corruption involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd proved to be Umno’s undoing at GE14 and Pakatan Harapan’s weapon to oust the ruling coalition that has led Malaysia for six decades.

But Ismail concedes that younger voters, especially, are more concerned about these kinds of issues, rather than personality and the contributions of MPs to constituents, a strategy Umno, with federal resources at its disposal while it was in government, often relied on.

PAS turning point

This year is a year of electoral successes for the BN lynchpin party as it managed to defend Rantau and Cameron Highlands, while retaking Semenyih and Tg Piai.

“We’ve gotten over our GE14 loss, especially after winning four by-elections. And if there’s another one tomorrow, we will also win that,” he said.

The turning point was the Umno-PAS pact signed in September, he said.

The pact, called muafakat nasional (national consensus), keeps Umno and PAS as distinct political organisations but seals their cooperation to avoid splitting the Malay-Muslim vote as a strategy to topple PH in the next elections.

While there was some anxiety among the Umno grassroots when party leaders mooted the pact with their long-time rivals, Ismail said these concerns are dissipating with every by-election victory.

“It has gone better than we expected. It’s not been easy for members in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu that have been competing against PAS for so many years.

“But the cooperation between grassroots members has been improving with each by-election.

“The women’s wings from Umno and PAS did very well in their house-to-house campaign together for Tg Piai.”

Ismail Sabri Yaakob says Umno has recovered from BN’s shock loss at GE14 last year. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 4, 2019.
Ismail Sabri Yaakob says Umno has recovered from BN’s shock loss at GE14 last year. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, December 4, 2019.

The pact has also given Umno direction and removed the “rudderless” feeling that plagued the party in the months after its GE14 downfall.

“Where delegates were looking for direction in the last general assembly, this time we are looking at how to implement what we have already planned.

“This time, Umno members and leaders are no longer ‘lost’ or soul searching. We know what to do now.”

Ismail also credits MCA as another reason for Umno’s growing confidence.

He said the BN ethnic Chinese component party is also getting stronger amid indications that Chinese support is returning.

“This was very obvious in the Semenyih and Tg Piai by-elections, where there was very good support for the Umno and MCA candidates.”

But the best news for Umno, he added, is PH’s own political instability.

“They are in constant disarray. Bersatu is unstable while the constant bickering in PKR is getting worse. From what we heard, they are even planning two congresses,” said the former rural and regional minister.

“But having said that, Umno also needs to strengthen itself. There’s no meaning if PH breaks up but we are not united.”

Politics first

With the weight of government lifted off their shoulders, this year’s congress is going to focus solely on politics.

“We are no longer the government and there is no need to have separate topics, such as economy, education, religion, etc. We will only focus on politics.

“There’s no point focusing on economy as we cannot influence any change there. That’s up to the current government.”

Party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will give the policy speech and delegates will debate that.

“But the president has not indicated what he will speak on yet.”

On the issue of several Umno MPs meeting PKR deputy president Azmin Ali recently, Ismail said the matter is now being handled by its disciplinary board.