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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sure-fire scripts at Umno assembly

NST (6/11/2007): Among the many, many possibilities that could come off in the Umno general assembly this time, two at least could be considered quite likely. One is a no-contest mood in the proceedings and the other is a return to Pas-bashing.
The first is becoming the standard overture for party elections, while the other is the seasonal blast-off prior to the general election.

Chronologically, it is the latter, as is widely known already, that will come first. But in order of importance, it is not really certain which of the two will take precedence to the 2,500 delegates attending.

The exact dates of the two elections are still anybody's guess but the vibes are telling the whole world that these two most critical events in the country's politics in three years are so near enough, you could almost smell them.

In fact, some pundits are oddly predicting that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is Umno president, would in his adjournment speech at the end of the assembly on Friday, announce the dissolution of parliament to pave the way for the general election.

Dissolving parliament at an Umno assembly? This has never been done before.

But it would be interesting indeed to observe how those speaking at the general assembly -- there will be about 50 of them -- would "navigate" through the process with party elections in mind.

An Umno Youth member I met the other day told me to watch out for who, among the first speakers debating the motion of thanks to the party president for his policy speech, would come out and propose that there be no contest for at least the top two positions in the party. Brownie points to be earned here.

"If this takes place as expected, it will create the mood and set the tone of sorts for everyone else," he said.

A no-contest mood is not new in Umno gatherings prior to party elections.

In the 2003 general assembly, for instance, which preceded the last party elections held the following year, this atmosphere was all apparent even with the reality that a changing of the guard in Umno was imminent since it was the last for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as party president.

Dr Mahathir, who had announced much earlier that he was stepping down, had picked Abdullah as his successor and there was a lot of interest then as to who would be Abdullah's deputy.

The 2003 meet predictably quelled all the heat when delegates spoke about the need to avoid a contest for the top party posts, which could split the party.

And this was reciprocated by key party people -- the then vice-presidents Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib -- who pledged they would not challenge Abdullah's choice of successor, whoever he might be.

A no-contest mood permeated when the three declared their stand, a situation initiated first by Dr Mahathir who, in his opening speech, expressed concern that the fight for posts would be disastrous. The delegates took the cue and created the kind of atmosphere and resolve to stay united.

This same spirit is most likely to be generated this time around, though the call for the abstention is, like always, only limited to the top two positions in the party.

Underneath all that however, the likelihood of subtle campaigning and lobbying -- one, for a seat in the next general election and another for other key positions in the party -- will be inevitable.

And one of the direct results of this is the prospect that some of those speaking at the assembly would take the opportunity to show off their party heroism by just hitting out at a common enemy -- Pas.

Pas, often convenient targets in Umno gatherings, was spared quite a bit in the last two general assemblies where delegates were preoccupied with other issues.

But there is a great possibility that Pas-bashing, as some observers describe it, would make a return this time.

There's plenty of room for that as well, according to an Umno insider, given the Barisan Nasional government's development agenda against Pas' politics of rhetoric.

The East Coast Economic Region development plans, for instance, would likely be cited in the attacks on Pas' strategies, especially in Kelantan.

Other ammo could come from issues arising out of the recent blazing street demonstration in Batu Buruk linked to opposition parties and the upcoming political march planned by non-governmental organisations and the opposition on Saturday, a day after the Umno assembly, in Kuala Lumpur.


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