JOCELINE TAN: WOOING THE FENCE-SITTERS

Sunday Star, 13th May 2012 published an article by Joc.

Official flag of United Malays National Organi...

Official flag of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). UMNO is the largest right-wing political party in Malaysia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tan on UMNO‘s 66 Birthday two days earlier. The mammoth rally at Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil was proof of what is in store for the Grand Old Party (GOP) of Malaysan Politics since independence on 31 August 1957. Joceline might be right when she said that the battle of the ballot box would decide the future of Malay-sians.  Coinsidently, the Rally was held  two days earlier when he nfamous 13 May 1969 happened. Below is the columnist analysis of the significance of the famous Rally.

Analysis
By JOCELINE TAN

 

Umno’s massive 66th anniversary rally two days before May 13 was not only about bringing the party faithful together but also to send an important signal to the fence-sitters that Umno’s strength can be counted on for continued stability to the country.

LANCHANG assemblyman Datuk Sharkar Shamsuddin is quite the macho type. He used to have a cowboy style about him but he has grown more polished as he moves up the political ladder.

But his tough guy image almost cracked at the Umno anniversary rally at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Friday night. As Sharkar took in the atmosphere and the thousands of people all dressed in red, he choked up and had to control his feelings.

“Just a bit of tears in the eyes. It was the mood in the stadium, the feeling that we belong together,” he admitted a day later.

Sharkar was not alone. Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad looked rather overwhelmed and his emotions were amplified on the giant screen for all to see.

The elderly statesman had been led to the stage via the VIP entrance. When he finally took his seat and gazed out at the red sea of people, it hit him that he was looking at something major or what some would call the Malay mood shift for Umno.

That was when the smile on his face became sort of wobbly and you could see he was struggling to control his feelings.

Anyway, the crowd went wild each time his name was mentioned that evening and that really says something about Dr Mahathir’s appeal because more than half of those in the packed stadium were made up of young Malays in their 20s and 30s.

Many people have described the Umno anniversary gathering as a show of unity, a rallying of the troops before the most crucial general election the party has ever faced. It was all of that and more.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has restored the confidence of Umno members in the party since taking over as president and the atmosphere at the rally was proof of that.

But the interesting part was how the Prime Minister used the occasion to send a message to Malaysian fence-sitters who will be voting in the next general election.

The crowd at the stadium was a converted crowd. They are going to vote for Umno no matter what.

As such the rally was about reaching out to Malaysian fence-sitters as well as to party members, to show them that this is how Umno behaves when under pressure and when pushed against the wall.

Najib’s key message is that Umno is a responsible ruling party that respects the law.

“He was telling us that if they can do it, we can also do it. We can do it bigger, better and without disrupting people’s everyday life,” said Sharkar.

Or as one Umno official put it: “If there is one thing that came across clearly, it’s that the Umno rally underscores how the Bersih rally went wrong.”

Umno, as some of its more hawkish members would say, has the numbers and is angry enough to outnumber the Bersih supporters on the streets but it is not going to do that.

The Umno gathering was taking place two days before May 13, the most political day in the Malaysian calendar.

But the party had gathered in an orderly and peaceful manner, in a stadium instead of on the streets, and minus disturbing incidents of civilians bashing the police and the police bashing the civilians.

May 13 was about a Malay party under siege and taking out its fears, insecurities and anger to the streets.

But now, Umno is the one that is pushing the line that such tactics are not part of its culture or agenda.

Najib’s message to the fence-sitters is that Umno has been around for 66 years and that it wants to continue to be in power but it wants to do that through the ballot box and not via street politics.

Najib, despite his numerous references to street politics, did not once mention the word “Bersih” or its organiser Datuk S. Ambiga or the man who managed to hijack the event, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

He did not have to because the crowd knew exactly what and who Najib was referring to.

Many in Umno had empathised with the second Bersih protest and its push for clean and fair elections. But it is a different story after the third Bersih protest.

Rightly or wrongly, the rank and file in Umno are convinced that the organisers and its Pakatan Rakyat partners are using it as a means to topple the ruling coalition.

They believe the original agenda of Bersih has been usurped by its politician partners and it explains why feelings in Umno about the people behind Bersih have become so toxic.

The next general election will be decided by the Malaysian middle ground or more specifically, the Malay middle ground. The conventional wisdom is that there are very few Chinese fence-sitters out there because the majority of Chinese have already made up their minds about their vote.

But the Malay middle ground is said to comprise between 35% and 40% of the total voters and they will be the ones who will decide which way the election goes. In other words, the next general election will be a battle for the Malay fence-sitters.

Najib does not say it out loud but he is basically banking on this cohort to carry his coalition across the winning line.

He knows this group works hard for a living. They range from working Malays to middle class and wealthy Malays.

He is appealing to their core desire to have a peaceful, stable and productive environment to work and raise a family and he is telling that Umno has track record of delivering what it promises.

Or as he said in his speech, his coalition wants to guarantee Malay-sians that tomorrow can be better than today.

 

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