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Published: Wednesday November 26, 2014 MYT 9:23:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday November 26, 2014 MYT 9:29:02 AM

Time for Najib to get tough

THERE is typically a lot of hype and expectation surrounding the annual Umno general assembly, especially since contentious issues within the past year will be up for debate.

The assembly is known to be an open platform for the grassroots to speak their minds, and this means that once every year, we get to hear the unbridled and unfiltered views from members of the country’s largest ruling party.

It is the main reason why plenty of eyes and ears will be fixed on not just what the delegates have to say, but the positions adopted by the party’s top leaders, especially on sensitive issues like race and religion.

Such topics will definitely come to the fore. They almost always do. But this year, the ramifications of saying the “wrong” thing could possibly be more damaging than before.

This is because in the last year, Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (pic) has promoted Malaysia’s moderate image on a global scale, particularly where it mattered most: at the United Nations general assembly.

Such a commitment in the face of the growing international threat of extremism and terrorism is welcome.

However, there are numerous issues standing in the way of moderation at home.

It is a rather similar script year in, year out. Controversial statements and extreme remarks are greeted, sometimes, to loud thumps or cheers from the crowd.

This year, despite warnings to the contrary from the president himself, I fully expect certain comments to seep through the filtering system and find themselves in the news.

It is no secret that the Prime Minister is facing criticism not just from his opponents but also from within his party.

And his harshest critic is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who still wields a strong influence in Umno.

Dr Mahathir’s recent decision to withdraw support for Najib may have hurt the latter more than he has let on, and now factions within Umno, who still respect the former PM, might be tempted to follow suit.

As Najib’s predecessor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi found out, Dr M is not an enemy you want to have.

I wonder then, what does a man who needs to juggle the aspirations of the rakyat, the voices from his party, and the criticism of friends and foes alike, do?

Despite Najib’s best efforts to move forward, there are those from his own camp who keep pressing the reset button, providing detractors with fresh fodder to criticise the president and the party.

The fact Umno is a party with some three million members, and there are bound to be a few loose tongues every now and then.

Nevertheless, what the PM can do is refuse to align himself with these voices.

Najib has already commanded his party members to “wake up from their slumber” during his closed-door presidential address to delegates on Tuesday, and must now pair it with a bold desire to weed out the bad apples.

Good leaders make right decisions, great leaders make tough decisions. I think I speak for all young Malaysians when I say that the old-school mentality is no longer going to work.

If extreme views are allowed to dominate the conversation at this year’s assembly, it could set a dangerous precedent for the future.

The phrase “nip it in the bud” cannot ring truer in this instance, and there is no better place for the prime minister to do it than at the general assembly.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Politics, Umno, General Assembly 2014, Najib Tun Razak, moderation

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