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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Abdullah urges Umno delegates to cool rhetoric

Straits Times Singapore (5/11/2007): The Umno annual assembly is usually marked by dramatic Malay rhetoric but this time, with the general election on the horizon, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is urging delegates to tone it down.

With the start of the assembly today, Datuk Seri Abdullah told them to keep in mind that Umno is a party that works for all Malaysians.

'Umno is the backbone of Barisan Nasional...We are not just about one race, we have a role to play for the country and its people,' he said in his annual pre-Umno assembly interview with Mingguan Malaysia.

His call echoes that of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak who told the New Sunday Times that the assembly's debates should reflect the spirit of racial camaraderie.

This closely-watched assembly is likely to be the last before a general election that is expected to be called within months. But it also comes at a time of increasingly strained racial ties.

Last year's Umno assembly, which was telecast live, did serious damage - the fiery speeches of a few delegates made the entire gathering appear extreme.

It is near impossible for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to lose a general election but there are concerns that up to 20 Chinese-majority parliamentary seats are vulnerable.

'If they tone it down, at least they won't lose the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and Gerakan additional votes,' a political analyst said.

Datuk Seri Abdullah said the relationship between Umno and its political partners is still good, but warned all parties not to tread on the sensitivities of the other races.

'Don't react hastily to incidents especially those that involve religious and ethnic sensitivities. We cannot quarrel amongst ourselves or make unreasonable demands that can hurt the feelings of others,' he said.

In particular, he said the issue of the social contract should not be raised, referring to the pre-independence gentlemen's agreement among the founding fathers that the Malays would have a special position, while the other races would be granted citizenship.

'There are ways to raise issues with the Malays. I also have a message for the Malays. I want to see the Malays becoming more confident,' he said.

He added that after 50 years of independence, many of them are still fearful of challenges.

In a separate interview with the NST, Datuk Seri Najib said that while the Umno assembly was aimed at a Malay audience, the party has to reflect its commitment to racial cooperation.

'We will guide them (the delegates). What we say should not hurt the feelings of others,' he said.

On the issue of Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein raising the keris (a Malay dagger) at the assembly, Datuk Seri Najib said the non-Malays were making too much out of it.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin, who is also Education Minister, began raising the keris at Umno Youth meetings two years ago. Each time the act angered the non-Malays who saw it as a symbol of racial aggression.

Datuk Seri Najib said it was merely a cultural symbol signifying a political struggle, not a confrontation.


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