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Monday, November 5, 2007

Run-up to UMNO general assembly: Staying the course to fulfil party's lofty goals

NST (2/11/2007): As next week's Umno general assembly will be the last one before the coming general election, it will not be surprising if some delegates take the opportunity to show off their oratory.

For these people, this is the only opportune time to ensure the leaders, sitting on the stage at Putra World Trade Centre's Dewan Merdeka, take notice of them -- aspiring candidates for the general election.

Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin does not think the general assembly should be the platform for self promotion but he, too, expects some delegates who would try and take advantage.

However, he reminds them that leadership is not about "pandai cakap" (oratorical skills). A good leader must have vision, work ethics, discipline and leadership qualities.

"It's better that this assembly is not used to lobby yourself but stays focused on achieving the aims and objectives of the party," he adds.

That's the observation of the young Umno leader, allegedly the most hated figure among the opposition, especially rival Malay party Pas.

Rather it is more envy than hatred, says a party insider. "Imagine if Khairy is a Pas member, he would definitely be their young idol."

With attacks focused on him, even in many unrelated issues, the Umno Youth number two has been ignoring them, working hard instead to focus on the party's youth wing, in particular to prepare members for the next general election.

For Khairy, next week's general assembly is important in reminding members of the aims and objectives of the party -- the Malay Agenda -- which has been successfully drawn up by Umno and ready to be implemented by the government.

"In terms of planning, the agenda has been well translated at previous general assemblies. Now is the time for the assembly to ensure successful implementation of the agenda," he says.

The Malay Agenda is basically a call for the revival of Umno's struggle to protect and to prosper the Malays based on the Malay special privileges as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. It is further enhanced with the spirit of affirmative action in the New Economic Policy.

While the focus is on the Malays, Umno as the backbone of the Barisan Nasional government has ensured that non-Malays would not be discriminated against, although non-Malay parties and groups have questioned the Agenda from time to time.

This is where Khairy believes that next week's Umno assembly will focus on -- to lay down the specifics on how to implement the Malay Agenda without having the unnecessary strong racial overtones.

Reflecting on last year's Umno assembly where a few speakers slipped in some racial slurs, the Umno Youth deputy chief explains that the incident does not represent the view of the party.

"We should conclude the party's stand based on the president's speech and his winding up remarks, and the speeches of the supreme council members, as well as the majority views of the delegates.

"Based on those speeches, I believe our party is still moderate in its stance when we talk about race relations," he says.

He believes speakers at this year's assembly will be more careful, as many of them are expected to put a strong emphasis on Umno's struggle for the past 61 years.

He also says leaders will explain Umno' position without being apologetic.

"We will say that you (non-Malays) may be uneasy with Umno Youth waving the kris but let us explain to you the actual meaning of the kris and why it is done, and what is our true intention.

"Surely Umno as the backbone of BN would not want to hurt the non-Malays."

For him, Umno has never changed its basic principles although the way to achieve the aims must adapt to changes.

When the party was formed many of the leaders were those from the rural areas, and it went on until the 1980s and 1990s when the professionals and corporate leaders began to join the party.

"Today, we are going back to basics and we put the emphasis on rural development to balance our nation's progress. This is our success in ensuring Umno's relevance," he adds.

While the party's focus has always been on the Malays, being the leader of BN and in control of the government, it has a strong impact on everyone in Malaysia.

With Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's focus on nationwide development and reviving agriculture and rural development, the impact will be felt by all.

New growth regions -- the Iskandar Development Region, Northern Corridor Economic Region and East Coast Economic Region, and soon similar projects in Sabah and Sarawak -- are expected to be one of the main topics to be debated at the assembly.

While one is expected to hear the question "what's in it for us, the ordinary people?" at the assembly, Umno is ready to take up all the grouses and proposals to ensure no one is left behind. At least that's what many Umno leaders have been saying lately.

"The point here is that the prime minister is bringing development for all. For growth corridor projects, I would like to hear from the grassroots on how we can channel development benefits to the rural areas," Khairy says.

The same goes for human capital. Umno is taking human capital development seriously, not only training members to be fully equipped to face challenges but also enhancing the training to reach the Malays in general.

Achieving Vision 2020 is just another step towards achieving a truly well-equipped Malay society, Khairy says, explaining that Abdullah's target of achieving the full potential by 2057 was more pertinent.

"We have to get out of that mentality that the Malays cannot compete with others, that the Malays are a 'subsidy race' and so on.

"We have two choices at this assembly. To continue saying that the Malays are lazy and not competitive or to admit the Malays have weaknesses but to address the problems as well as to harness our strengths such as our capability of being creative, innovative, hard working, focused and polite.

"If we are focused on this and with the government's proper planning, I believe we will see a change in attitude that we have failed to do in the last 20 years," he adds.

Will the younger generation in Umno grasp the aims and objectives of the party?

Khairy rejects the notion that some Umno Youth members are striving to become the old men of the party -- young in age, old in thinking and approach -- as he has witnessed the vigour and spirit among the younger members.

"The rejuvenation process within the party has been ongoing. I believe Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein's acceptance of my presence in the youth movement is proof of the serious process of rejuvenation," he says.

It should also not be surprising if some speakers at the assembly, especially at the youth wing's assembly, may even propose that the older leaders make way for the younger ones.


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