PUTRAJAYA: For practically all their lives, the Umno grassroots have seen DAP as the mortal enemy, and were told that the idea of working with Pakatan Harapan was abhorrent.
This week, the Umno leadership will spend almost all their time at the party general assembly trying to convince party members to drop that lifelong stand, and work with Pakatan in the upcoming state polls.
It is just a matter of weeks before the six states call for elections and Umno’s general assembly, which starts today, is seen as the platform for the leadership to get their grassroots on board.
They really have some difficult convincing to do, say observers.
After all, it will be the first time Barisan Nasional will be working with Pakatan, especially its long-time foe DAP.
More than six months after the 15th General Election (GE15) saw the birth of the unity government which had both Umno and DAP together, the relationship between the two remains clouded.
While ties among top leaders have improved, observers said the same could not be said at the grassroots.
“For some Umno grassroots, the idea of working with Pakatan, particularly DAP, is incomprehensible,” said an observer.
A Johor division leader said that while the leadership wanted members to work with the Pakatan parties, the members might have other ideas.
“As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
“There will be some 2,000-odd delegates at the assembly. How many can actually be convinced that it is all right to work with Pakatan now.
“You cannot even get grassroots to support you,” he pointed out.
However, there are Umno leaders who believe in the political maturity of their members.
Supreme council member Datuk Puad Zarkashi said that with the right narrative, the delegates would accept why parties in the unity government must work hand-in-hand in the state polls.
Puad blames the Opposition for harping on the issue of Umno working with DAP, causing confusion and disharmony.
“Umno members know the importance of unity and stability. For this, we need to work with other parties to win in the six states,” he said.
Fellow supreme council member and Seputeh division chief Datuk Mohd Razlan Rafii also said party members should ignore those out to cause discontent.
“I believe members understand what is needed for Umno’s survival,” he said.
Iskandar Puteri division chief Datuk Khairi Malik said delegates need to be given a better understanding on Umno’s relationship with others in the unity government.
“Make them understand and they will come on board,” he said.
All eyes will now be on Dewan Merdeka on Friday, when Prime Minister and Pakatan chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as well as leaders of the 19 parties in the government are scheduled to attend the opening of the general assembly.
As partners in the unity government, all the leaders have been invited, a first in Umno’s history.
There have been mixed feelings about having these leaders at the assembly but there are many who say extending the invitation was a norm.
“Barisan and Pakatan are partners now. Inviting our partners to our general assembly has always been the practice,” said an Umno leader from Terengganu.
It remains to be seen if Anwar or any leaders from Pakatan will turn up, but as a political observer puts it, “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”.
“If they turn up, one wonders about the kind of reception they will receive.
“If they don’t turn up, it may likely be seen as a snub,” said an observer.
This will be the first general assembly for Umno’s new office bearers, who will serve until 2026.While the president and deputy president posts were unchallenged, two of three vice-presidents are new – Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail and Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani. Incumbent Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin retained his vice-presidency.
Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad remains as Wanita chief but both Youth and Puteri chiefs – Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh and Datuk Nurul Amal Mohd Fauzi – are new to the posts.
Razlan said the meeting would also serve as an opportunity for Umno to come together after the party polls.
“The hearts of Umno members need to be brought together so our ship can sail far.
“There are a lot of things to be done. It can only be done if we are united,” he said.