EVERYONE was expecting Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to beat the war drums at the Umno general assembly.
What they did not expect was that the Umno president would start banging it barely 10 minutes into his presidential speech. From then on, it was bang, bang, bang all the way till the end.
And the delegates lapped it up – the fierce talk, the jabs at the Opposition, the rallying cry and the confidence boosting.
Najib has often been described as a “wartime president” because he took over Umno when the war between the ruling and opposition coalitions was at its most intense. He is now in war mode.
It was a highly charged political speech, a war speech to fire up the 2,700-plus delegates who resembled a sea of red at Dewan Merdeka.
He was basically telling them that the party intends to win big in the general election.
He did not spare the drama either, telling the delegates that the next general election is not just another election but that it would “determine the compass of our struggle”.
He also turned up the emotions when he told the audience that the party needs to win in order to defend the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers, the stability of the nation for future generations and, of course, the sanctity of Islam.
“He was setting a clear narrative for GE14. He spent a good deal of time attacking the Opposition and debunking the falsehoods spread by them over the years,” said political commentator Amir Fareed Rahim.
Umno started using graphics and videos to accompany the presidential speech several years ago.
It was pretty clumsy in the beginning but they have mastered it using a superb high-definition giant screen that stretches across the top of the stage.
In fact, Umno general assemblies have not been the same since Datuk Seri Rauf Yusoh took over as the party’s executive secretary – everything seems bigger, grander and more organised.
There were boos from the audience each time pictures of the Opposition leaders, especially Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the DAP father-and-son, appeared on the giant screen.
DAP and Parti Pribumi are now the big enemies while PAS has been relegated to “friendly enemy” status.
The attacks on Dr Mahathir had begun last year but in a rather oblique way. They had referred to him as “a certain leader” or the “old man”.
But now that he is the leader of the Opposition, they feel free to criticise him. Najib referred to the former premier by his name while pointing out all the U-turns the elder man has made since joining the Opposition.
Who would have imagined a day when the man considered the greatest prime minister Malaysia ever had would become Umno’s Enemy No. 1?
They put Dr Mahathir’s face against a picture of an old junk boat to illustrate that the Opposition is being led by a 92-year-old man.
Najib slammed Parti Pribumi for working with DAP which he said is anti-Malay and anti-Islam.
He said Parti Pribumi could not even organise its party AGM but is trying to tell Barisan Nasional how to do its work and he labelled Dr Mahathir as “Bapa Segala Tol” (father of tolls) for all the lopsided toll highway agreements.
“It’s clear that Umno sees Parti Pribumi as a rival, going by the systematic attack,” said Amir.
Najib likened Pakatan Harapan to a ship with four captains and asked, “how are they going to run the country”.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also made a cameo appearance when a picture of the now famous hospital visit appeared on the screen. But Najib assured his party that it was just a friendly overture and that his party will continue to “lawan tetap lawan”or fight it out with PKR.
Najib’s strength is that he has managed to stay focused and continue with what he has to do as prime minister in the midst of all the attacks aimed at him and his party.
But in politics, the standing of a party is relative to the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing side.
Najib’s party and coalition looks much more steady today because the other side is unable to sort out its differences, and its modus operandi of blame and accuse has started to lose credibility.
“Although a big part of his speech was about poking holes in the Opposition, his main aim is to create an atmosphere of confidence for the general election. You need to have the winning mentality in order to win.
“It was important for him to quash the opposition nonsense that Malaysia is a failed state and we are going bankrupt.
“As Najib pointed out, Malaysia has been named the top emerging economy in the region with a growth rate of 6.2%,” said supreme council member and Finance Minister II Datuk Johari Ghani.
Najib also introduced a new term – persuadable voters. This group is apparently different from the middle-ground voters and some think he is referring to PAS supporters who can be persuaded to support Umno.
Was that why the cries of “Allahu Akbar” – something usually associated with PAS gatherings – rang out a total of six times throughout Najib’s speech?