Agenda Daily

BN’S future hinges on UMNO

ykadirxRegaining Malay support is the precursor to improving theBarisan Nasional’s chances in the coming general election. How hard is Umno working to fulfil this?

IT HAS BEEN ALMOST A YEAR SINCE TALK OF AN EARLY general election surfaced, and it could have come only from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders themselves, in particular, Prime Minister Datuk Sen Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, as they are the only ones who can decide when.
Since then, the speculation has gotten hotter as Mohd Najib dishes out one election goody after another. His recent Budget 2012 was filled to the brim with them and, as one recent seminar participant in Kuala Lumpur said, some of the cash promises had been given out well ahead of the start of the budget year.
Another pointed out that the Prime Minister is not as desperate as some have made him out to be, at least not in the length of time he has left to call for the election. By her calculation, Mohd Najib has up to April 2013 to do so.
That may be so, but the prevailing wisdom points to a much shorter wait. He could call for a general election as early as the first quarter of next year or not later than the first half.
The end of November and early December sitting of the Umno annual general assembly should make the picture clearer. That is the last opportunity for Mohd Najib, who is Umno President, to sweet talk and energise the grass-root leaders of his party.
His biggest challenge is reinforcing the confidence of grass-root leaders and party workers that Umno has improved since the 2008 general election debacle, and answer charges that Umno is still weak and unprepared for the polls.
The most recent warning to Mohd Najib came from former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who told the Umno-owned newspaper Mingguan Malaysia in an exclusive interview that the party has yet to work hard to regain the support of the people, in particular, its Malay backbone.
Coming as it did from a former Umno President who had ruled the country for 22 years, won five general elections with a two-thirds majority for the BN and overcame two economic crises, his words still mean a lot to voters.
Just days before the interview was published, a survey by the International Islamic University of five most influential Malaysian leaders put Dr Mahathir just behind Mohd Najib. Others were Parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Sen Anwar Ibrahim, Pas President DatukAbdul Hadi Awang and Pas spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
Apparently responding to growing Malay uneasiness that Mohd Najib is favouring the minority non-Malays at the expense of the Malays, Dr Mahathir warned Umno that thenon-Malay votes, in particular the Chinese, were additional votes, saying that without sufficient Malay votes, Umno and the BN could not win.
He was stating the obvious. Umno is a Malay party that leads a coalition of more than 10 race-based parties. More than 55% of voters are Malays and, until the 2008 general election, had always tilted in favour of the BN.
A speaker at a recent Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) seminar in Kuala Lumpur said the RN had almost never enjoyed the majority support of the non-Malay voters.
Dr Mahathir said that he has not noticed Umno working hard to garner the support of the Malays, noting that in the past, there would be a flurry of activities involving Umno members and supporters when elections neared.
Understandably, having seen what his unfavourable comments did to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the 2008 general election, Mohd Najib and his aides were either silent or courteous in their response.
The only senior Umno leader to come out openly to acknowledge his comments was Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who said there are shortcomings in the party and efforts are being made to address them.

REGAINING Malay support is the precursor to improving the BN’s chances in the coming general election. With some 5% to 15% of Umno members and supporters deserting the party in favour of the Opposition in 2008, the task of pacifying and enticing them is crucial, but also a tough one.
The desertion can be summed up in one Malay word — menyampah — fed-up. They were fed-up with Abdullah over the alleged abandonment of the Malay agenda and the hijacking of his administration by family members, friends and the so-called ‘4th Floor Boys’.
Mohd Najib has to convince the voters that he is not afflicted by a similar malady if he wants to overcome the menyampah factor.
Dr Mahathir reminded Umno and the BN of the narrow margin of their victory, saying that every vote counts. Overall, the BN won only 51 .4% of the votes in the Parliamentary contests that translated into 132 out of 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat. The BN won another eight seats uncontested, bringing its tally to 140.
But that is not Umno’s and BN’s predicament alone. The Opposition Pakatan Rakyat is equally worried about the narrow margin, and with the DAP and Pas openly quarrelling about ideologies, the alliance’s chances of making further gains could be jeopardised.
The level of Malay disenchantment with the Malay-based political parties, in particular Umno, in the post-2008 general election is manifested by the birth of broad-based Malay non-governmental organisations like the Malay Consultative Council (MPM) and the Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa).
Dr Mahathir, who has regularly frequented Perkasa’s events, was blunt when he said many Malays now channel their struggle through the NGOs because they are disappointed with Umno.
In the past, they believed that Umno would struggle for the Malays. Now, they no longer see Umno struggling for the Malays,’ he said.
The former prime Minister warned Umno and the BN that while these Malay NGOs may not be able to achieve much on their own, but because they had members and followers, they could cost the BN votes.
He said not all Malay NGOs are against Umno and urged Umno leaders to find out why the Malays are moving from UMNO to the NGOs, adding that Perkasa would like to support Umno, but could no do so because there are Malay issues that are not attended to by the party.
The worst mistake Umno can do is to ignore the presence bf the Malay NGOs and to continue unleashing the mainstream media it controls on them. Perkasa has gained additional sympathy from the Malays as a result of incessant hounding by news portals like the Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini.
The fact that Datuk Ibrahim Ali — a rebel rouser, former Umno Deputy Minister and an independent who won the 2008 general election on a borrowed Pas ticket — could marshal such widespread Malay support speaks volumes about their disenchantment with Umno, Pas and Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
Assuming that there will not be a big increase in the non-~ Malay votes in its favour, the BN has to rely a lot more on Malay votes.
While the BN’s non-Malay parties are yet to recover from the decimation of the 2008 general election, the DAP looks solid. In fact, its fight with Pas over the Islamic State and Hudud law has enhanced its credibility among the non- Muslims.
If there is going to be a break-up of Pakatan Rakyat, the cause has to be the yawning gap between DAP’s secularism and Pas  Islamic State. Pas cannot possibly abandon that aspect of its ideology without risking the support of the traditionalists, while the DAP cannot be seen to be compromising its secular ideology.
THE BN’s sense of confidence is largely based on the perceived weakness of the Pakatan Rakyat since the 2008 general election, and will most certainly capitalise on the differences among its members.
But the DAP will still win in non-Malay-dominated states Penang and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur — and urban constituencies.
If the outcome of the recent Sarawak state election is any indication, then the DAP’s surge is gaining momentum. Even without Pas, it can easily retain Penang and urban seats.
The real risk facing the BN is the likely continuation of the Sarawak voting trend, where the Chinese stood solidly behind the DAP. If it continues into the general election, then the BN could risk losing up to six Parliamentary seats as opposed to two now.
There, the Taib Mahmud (Tan Sri) factor looms large. He is still the powerful Chief Minister although he promised to retire before his term ends. His party and other Bumiputera based parties did well in the state election.
Like Sarawak, Sabah may no longer be the BN’s fixed deposit. It may not be widely known in the Peninsular, but the leadership struggle there is said to be fierce, not only within Umno but among the state BN parties.
In 2008, had it not been for the solid victory in these two states, the BN could have been in a worse circumstance. Sarawak and Sabah delivered 54 out of its 140 Parliamentary seats. Seven of these seats were won uncontested.
So, whenever it happens, Malaysians and foreigners who have interest in this country, like the investors, can look forward to an exciting, nerve-wrecking time. Investor sentiment should be closely watched, as the outcome of the coming election may entail widespread economic implications.-28/12/2011

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