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Difficult questions on Umno’s future trajectory

COMMENT Today the Umno general assembly begins - an event that has been stage-managed to deliver another show of support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. These sorts of activities have become commonplace since the July revelation of the RM2.6 million ‘donation’ that continues to be inadequately explained and embarrasses Malaysia.

The meeting provides an opportunity to take stock - not only of the PM but of the state of the party that has governed Malaysia since independence. By whatever measure, Malaysia’s leadership is facing serious challenges ahead.

In Umno, Najib does not directly manage the party’s affairs. This has been traditionally the domain of the deputy and other loyalists around the premier, including the party secretary-general. The PM does set the tone however of engagement and the political culture in the party as president.

Since GE2013, Najib has been fighting disgruntlement and opposition within Umno. To manage discontent, he has expanded his repertoire from persuasion to patronage and from promises of rewards to potential purges.

As he has done in the national arena, Najib has used the prerogatives of the office of the presidency of Umno to maintain control, with the most notable measure postponing the party elections until after he can select candidates for GE2018 and place more of his loyalists in political positions. Delaying the party polls has prevented mobilisation around an alternative leader - at least for now...

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