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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What this year's UMNO General Assembly might focus on

RSI (5/11/2007): Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organization or UMNO, which is led by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will hold its general assembly this week.

This is the last congress that UMNO will have ahead of the general election that is expected before April next year.

According to UMNO’s vice president, Muhyiddin Yassin, Prime Minister Abdullah will focus on ways to enhance cooperation between the races on the economic, social and educational spheres.

To find out more about what PM Abdullah will focus on at this year’s UMNO general assembly, Shereena Sajeed spoke with Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Fellow at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies in Singapore.

OKB: I think he will be talking about national unity. I think that’s what he talked about yesterday, in an interview. I think it will be national unity that he will try to bring up and I think that’s one of the ways that he can use to calm things down because tat the moment the feeling on the ground in Malaysia is rather bad. There’s a lot of tension and there’s a lot of distrust about the government, which is basically UMNO is willing and not willing to do where reforms are concerned, especially with the judiciary as you know, and then this very strange thing of one top policeman coming out against another top policeman, well it might make good reading, but it’s a bit scary for the country.

What is one of the main issues that will be discussed at the annual meeting, taking into consideration elections are just around the corner?

OKB: I suspect, here I can be totally wrong. I suspect that Abdullah will try not to talk about the general elections. For one thing, we have to remember that this UMNO assembly should have had a general elections and that was postponed. And I’m sure there were very good reasons why UMNO decided to postpone their elections. The main reason I think that it is to, again calm things down and make sure that within UMNO itself, there won’t be too bickering and internal competition so by postponing the party elections, they’re managed to do that. And Abdullah does not have to call elections for over a year yet, you know and we are just speculating that he will call one early. I mean a year is quite a long time. So I don’t think he will, unless he is forced to, I don’t think he will bring it up on his own initiative to talk about the general elections. He will in an obtuse way of course, by talking about national unity and all that. There are certain consequences, certain significance for the general elections.

What are some of the challenges that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi or any of the UMNO delegates may face at the meeting?

OKB: I think UMNO is basically not a party that is going to, at this point in time, it’s not a party that will challenge the leadership in any way and I think that Abdullah’s soft leadership, if you like, a leadership of violence, if you want to call it, suits many people in the middle rank of UMNO, it gives them a lot of space and for these people, wannabes climbing up and trying to get themselves into positions of patronage, Abdullah is perfect for them so I don’t expect any challenges to come from within UMNO.

Do you think we will see a repeat of what happened last year when things spun out of control?

OKB: No. No I think they’ve learnt their lesson. For one thing, they won’t have it telecasted in anyway I think. What would be interesting would be the role of Hishammuddin, UMNO youth leader when he goes up there. I think he is probably sitting at home now and listening to advice whether to wave the kris or not. I think that’s what people will be looking for and that will be the highlight of the assembly. Will Hishammuddin do it again? He’s done it two years in a row now and it’s become a matter of honour for him now I suppose and the honour of UMNO youth to not cave in from pressure from non-Malays, to not wave the kris so we will see whether they will wave the kris or not.


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