Facing Dr M threat, Umno to burnish Malay credentials at assembly

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — This year’s Umno general assembly will likely see more pro-Malay rhetoric from both delegates and leaders in an bid to defuse any political threat from the splinter Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), analysts said.

They believe PPBM, the new Malay outfit chaired by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has the potential to menace Umno in the 14th general election, which is why this assembly is likely to feature mudslinging against the 91-year-old former prime minister.

And the vitriol will have strong racial undertones. Dismantling and wiping out Dr Mahathir’s legacy will be crucial to counter PPBM’s draw among Umno’s two over million grassroot members, they added.

“This AGM will see a show of anger and affirmation of who Umno’s most threatening enemies are, and also call for punitive action against Mahathir and his followers.

“Seeing how PPBM can potentially eat into the party’s constituency, there will be a big demonstration by delegates in support of Malay rights as an attempt to distract from the arguments around corruption, the ringgit and the economy,” Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told Malay Mail Online.

Most of the attacks will come from Umno delegates rather than the leadership. This is important to indicate that the anti-Mahathir sentiment is shared by the entire party, and not confined to the top.

A display of collective anger from the delegates will also drive home the point that Umno is united behind Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak. This would also dispel any notion that Umno’s grassroots remained sympathetic to Dr Mahathir’s agenda, one analyst said.

“The pro-Malay sloganeering will increase but, like always, [it will] mostly be done through the mouths of the delegates… but first and foremost, it’s unity around Najib as the undisputed supreme leader of the party,” Oh Ei Sun, Najib’s former political secretary, told Malay Mail Online.

Dr Mahathir established PPBM together with former deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and his son and former Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, both of whom were sacked from Umno as part of Najib’s purge against critics of his leadership.

Like Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin and Mukhriz have also called for investigations against Najib over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) controversy.

The shared pursuit for Najib’s ouster led the new all-Malay outfit to formally forge an alliance with the opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan, and PPBM has since expressed its intention to take on Umno with the belief that it stands a chance to grab some of the latter’s strongholds in direct contests.

Samsu Adabi Mamat, political analyst with Universiti Teknologi Mara believes PPBM has the potential to split Umno’s votes in areas where it is deemed to be traditionally strong. Pointing to the Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar by-elections, the pundit said Umno’s performance was not convincing enough to show it could withstand a united opposition.

Umno won in both polls with bigger majorities thanks to a split in PAS. Its splinter party, Amanah, also contested in the twin by-elections, splitting the opposition votes.

“If you look at the two by-elections Umno only won because the opposition were split but now Umno’s votes could be split because many of its members are quietly supportive of PPBM so it’s a threat they cannot take lightly,” Samsu said.

This fear could drive some Umno leaders to adopt a strongarm tactic against its enemies in this year’s assembly, the analyst predicted. While Umno under Najib had previously embarked on a mission to rebrand itself as a party under reform, PPBM’s presence will likely change all that.

“In terms of strategy what Umno will be focused on is loyalty. It will stress this again and again and to do so, it may adopt harsh strategies that may include personality attacks,” he said.

The 2016 Umno general assembly kicks off today and ends on December 3.

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