Umno president-elect Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has called on party members to embrace change as demanded by the people and at the same time stay united to recapture lost ground.
“Change from being aloof to being friendly and approachable; from always thinking of our self interest to instead putting the interest of the people above our own; from laziness to diligence and from doing the required minimum to embracing a passion for service,” he said when opening the joint Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings assemblies here last night.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak signalled his intention tonight to change Umno’s electoral system by taking away the vote from just party delegates in a move which he says is necessary to save the party and win back the support of ordinary Malaysians.
“This move will be able to put to an end the problems of money politics and abuse of power,” the incoming Umno president and the country’s next prime minister told delegates of the party’s Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings tonight.
Najib’s remarks tonight, goes further than what any other Umno leader has suggested to introduce the kind of reforms needed to counter the widespread perception of Umno as a corrupt party.
The Umno deputy president said the party must now reexamine its quota system for selecting candidates to senior positions and give the vote to a greater number of members.
“As it stands the deciders are a delegation of some 2,600 delegates from 191 divisions. Clearly the choice of these delegates cannot correctly reflect the preferences of more than three million grassroots members.
“To my mind the time has come for us to review the constitution of Umno so that the selection of Umno leaders will be more inclusive,” he said.
Najib’s proposal may cause some controversy among delegates who have largely benefitted from being courted for their votes, but it is likely to get the backing of party members as well as ordinary Malaysians.
Spelling out the need for Umno to reinvigorate itself, he implored party members to undertake a process of addressing its weaknesses or risk being continued to be seen as a party in denial.
“To do this Umno must first remove itself from being linked to money politics and any other form of unsavoury activities. Umno will be destroyed if its leaders are enshrouded in the evils of money politics.
“Clearly if this evil is not halted and is allowed to grow and fester it will become so commonplace that leaders and followers alike can make light of it with humorous remarks like ‘beri salah take beri kalah (To give would be wrong, not to give would result in defeat)’,” he said.
Umno has been heavily criticised in recent weeks over the manner in which it has handled the problem of money politics, or vote buying, especially after the party barred Datuk Ali Rustam from contesting elections but allowed a number of other leaders to continue their campaigns despite perceptions of impropriety against them as well.
In recent days, senior leaders aligned with Najib have been working hard to try to convince delegates to reject tainted candidates.
While tonight’s remarks were addressed towards his own party, Najib clearly acknowledged the anticipation of him becoming prime minister next week by acknowledging the negative public perception of Umno.
Touching on the party’s worst ever electoral performance in last year’s general elections, he said: “We lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since Barisan Nasional was formed. It is an awful and bitter truth, but a truth none the less and one which we must accept.”
He said public perception showed the party had swayed far from its original struggle and its raison d’etre.
“That being the case, your collective duty as delegates this year is the heaviest duty to have ever been borne by any delegation in the history of Umno.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the fate of Umno. The decision we collectively make at this assembly will determine the future of our party; whether we continue to shape and mould history or just become an entry in the annals of history.”
Najib also gave a particularly measured response to accusations that the government’s affirmative action policies were akin to racial segregation.
“There are those who dare question what has previously been agreed to and entrenched in the federal constitution. There are even those who have the audacity to accuse us of Apartheid when history will show this is far from the truth.
“Let it be known that the policies introduced by the government in aid of the Malays are not formulated because we feel that the Malays are better than everyone else. Rather we crated these policies precisely because the Malays are left behind compared to others.”