WITH the Umno general assembly just around the corner, party president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has the unenviable task of raising the morale of its members following Barisan Nasional’s devastating defeat in the 14th General Election. Zahid speaks to the New Straits Times Press on what the party’s first assembly as opposition will be like and how it plans to regain the people’s trust, in time for GE15.
QUESTION: You will deliver your maiden speech as Umno president at the general assembly. What are your expectations?
A: I am taking this seriously. I anticipate more vocal delegates, especially on the direction of the party since GE14 (14th General Election). As we are now the opposition, members are discussing moves to cleanup the party to make it more relevant.
Expectations are high. Umno’s revival will top the agenda. And this is the first time an Umno president is not the prime minister.
I must be prepared to introduce a more vibrant direction for the party With the assistance, feedback and recommendations from the Umno Supreme Council members and the grassroots, together we must find the right answer for this.
Q: But Umno keeps losing members, especially seniors like Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Datuk Seri Anifah Aman. How has this affected the party?
A: When we lost GE14, some representatives and members could not live with the fact that we are now the opposition, powerless and almost in a state of destitution when our accounts were frozen by the authorities.
Some were even gullible (when it comes to) offers made by the government, some (I think) were petrified when police and MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) officers came knocking on their doors. It is a way the government applies pressure on us.
Some in Umno even suggested that this will be the start of Umno’s demise in Malaysian politics.
There are also remarks about me, my team and the party, but I take it as an attempt to demoralise us. Of course, the departure of some senior members did have an adverse impact on the party, but it subsided when we knew the truth behind such moves.
Members began to acknowledge the sentiment. It is for their survival, and we cannot blame or stop them. We thanked them and wished them luck.
Q: Do you think more will leave the party. Should that happen, what are the consequences?
A: As I said, we cannot stop anyone from leaving. Maybe there will be. Let them. What Umno needs are party loyalists, those who have strong self-esteem and dedication for the party, for Malays and the Bumiputera agenda, for Malaysians.
These are the ones we should woo, those with inner strength to withstand pressure and accepting what we are now, those who really understand our problems and predicaments. We need members who can stand with us.
And I can guarantee you that no one can come between us to break the unity. Umno will exist; it will survive on sincerity and loyalty.
Q: Your cooperation with Pas has been met with objections by MCA and some Umno members.MCA even wanted to boot you out of BN. What is your take?
A: Let me make it clear. We are now the opposition, and so are Pas, MCA and MIC. Our cooperation with Pas is to fortify the opposition. It is not to form a new coalition.
There is nothing wrong with that.
We can see a coalition in the government, and in fact, they formed a political pact when they were the opposition.
But we just cooperate in mutual and beneficial ways as an opposition.
The uproar stemmed from their misunderstanding of the Umno-Pas cooperation. We attended their muktamar to develop better rapport. They will attend our general assembly as a reciprocal gesture.
Umno will work with any party that shares similar approaches and principles with us. We are open. We’re not desperate but as the opposition, we must stand strong and united. We showed this in the Sungai Kandis, Balakong and Seri Setia by-elections.
There is no coalition pact, only cooperation. I hope this is clear.
Q: BN will not contest the Port Dickson by-election. Does this mean you are giving a better chance to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to win?
A: Whether it is going to be easy or otherwise for him, voters will make the decision. But we will not contest in a ‘dirty ’ by-election where an incumbent representative vacates the seat just to let his superior contest.
This is not right, it is unethical.
It will be waste of time and public funds. It is disrespecting the people and the Election Commission.
It is a mockery of democracy. Under the current regime, politics gets even filthier. Tell me, what system are we advocating now? It is only to fulfil the political hunger of someone and a party. If I want you to be in the Cabinet, I can always vacate my seat for you, is that it? This will go on and on.
Q: Do you feel that Umno will remain an opposition party after GE15? Any plans to recapture Putrajaya?
A: Definitely. We want to regain power. Being the opposition is to act as checks and balances, but being the government is to chart and implement. To attain this, we must go back to the political drawing board.
Many aspects need to be reviewed, adjusted and re-engineered.
For Umno to move forward, it must keep abreast with the changes and evolution of politics. The mindset must change. Gone is the era of party warlords. From members to the highranking officials, it is going to be even. Voices from the youth play a bigger deciding factor in the party. No more time for complacency.
We must work harder to achieve that. I do not want to elaborate on plans. It will be discussed behind closed doors. Let others speculate, I am not going to detail it yet.
Q: What is the new direction for Umno under your stewardship?
A: Have faith in Umno. Not only our members, but Malaysians as a whole. We serve each and every section of society. We have proven this for 61 years.
There were hiccups along the way, but the people are always in our heart and mind. We will make Umno more attractive from now on, a party that they cannot resist.
We will work to wrest power (from the government), for the sake of Malaysians. With the current scenario, the people have a lot to complain about. We will be back for them. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd