March 28th, 2009 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Just got back from the UMNO General Assembly and among top leadership of UMNO, Khairy Jamaluddin will probably have the hardest time to lead, simply because the division within the wing he is leading.
Each time his name was mentioned, a big boo followed. On the contrary, when Mukhriz Mahathir joined the hall to take his seat in the wing, he received a raving applause. Odd indeed because the sentiment in the hall did not reflect the election result.
When Khairy Jamaluddin spoke behind the rostrum, he took a humble tone, probably realizing his unpopularity in the hall.
Ali Rustam was popular. Add the adverb very if I am guilty of underemphasizing the support he enjoyed today. The hall definitely considered the judgment against the politician from Malacca by UMNO diciplinary board as injustice. From my outsider perspective, clearly, there is perverse incentive in UMNO at the moment; a convicted corrupt politician can be a star, the darling of the hall. If there is a lesson from there, it is that do not act unjustly because the victim of unjust act, even if he is less than innocent, can become the prince of heart.
Zahid Hamidi was the first to realize that and to utilize the popularity of Ali Rustam at the Putra World Trade Center, mostly because his turn to speak was right after Ali Rustam’s. He mentioned Ali Rustam a couple of times and each time he did so, the crowd went wild without fail.
Mahathir Mohamad was welcomed whole-heartedly by UMNO members. Muhyiddin Yassin was speaking when he entered the hall and the new Deputy President of UMNO had to take a pause as the crowd gave the former Prime Minister a standing ovation. Muhyiddin Yassin, rather than finishing his interrupted sentence, decided to give Mahathir Mohamad the spotlight by citing his name, almost to the point of too much.
Not as much as Shahrizat Abdul Jalil though. With a divided UMNO, she went on to mention everybody’s name, from Rafidah, to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Najib Razak to more names than I care to remember. She appeared as a person earnestly trying to hedge her bet across the board.
And this time unlike two days earlier, I stayed to the end because while some points are very disagreeable (being a secularist, a passive republican and a liberal in an UMNO pow-wow, what a surprise, eh? The too many mentions of religion and ethnonationalism were dizzying), the quality of the speeches were noticeably better than the previous ones.
Finally, Najib Razak. I do have other reservation, especially about the divergence between his rhetoric and the the rhetoric of so-called UMNO grassroot present in the hall, and between his rhetoric and events I am witnessing in as a citizen of Malaysia. Nevertheless, he appeared as a person that have the ability to lead. I was in the hall and I have to admit he managed to bring out the fighting spirit in UMNO members there. It was as if, an unconfident UMNO finally found the rock they require. He called for unity and showed courage to implicitly inform Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that he is a man of his own.
In my humble opinion, Pakatan Rakyat will have to on their toes because they — if the momentum I saw in the hall continues — have just found their match. In the last general election, UMNO entered the ring wounded. This time, some recuparation had taken place.