...for CHANGE for Umno to become a "progressive, dynamic and responsive" party.
Speaking at the opening of the Umno annual general assembly - his first policy speech since taking over the party presidency last March - Datuk Seri Najib Razak told the 2,541 delegates that Umno must change if it wants to retain its unbroken grip on power since Independence after the next general election.
He said that Umno aimed to reform itself into a “progressive, dynamic and responsive” party.
“Therefore, to continue to survive, Umno has no choice but to embrace reality. Umno must open its doors for change and improvement.”
To kick off the reform process, party delegates will have a closed-door debate today on seven amendments to the Umno constitution.
The seven motions include one to increase the voting base to elect leaders to the division level whereby 146,500 members will be eligible to vote as compared to only 2,510 delegates now.
It is a sign that the spirit of democracy remains alive in Umno, he said.
“Clearly, no other political party in Malaysia is brave enough to do the same,” he added and asked the delegates to abandon the vote-buying practice after the amendments were passed.
In reference to the party's landslide victory in the recent Bagan Pinang by-election, he warned the delegates that the victory did not indicate the party's full recovery.
“One swallow does not make a summer. We cannot be complacent or happy thinking that we are the party of choice just because other parties cannot be trusted, or in other words the best among the worse,” said Datuk Seri Najib.
But he would like to see a repeat of the success of winning over the support of the non-Malays in Bagan Pinang.
“Clearly, in mixed constituencies we want Umno to be accepted as a party that fights for not only the Malays but also other ethnic groups in Malaysia,” he said.
He called on the party to change the candidate-selection method in elections saying that the individual has to be accepted by the local community and possess the quality to serve at three important levels, the people, the party and the nation.
Datuk Seri Najib, who is also prime minister, took over the party six months ago from the then Umno president Tun Abdullah Badawi in wake of the unprecedented setback in the March 8 general election last year.
The party president reminded the delegates that Umno will remain a "centrist" party. “We are neither a leftist nor a right-wing party,” he said.
"Since its formation 60 years ago, Umno has accommodated the left, right, nationalists and religious scholars."
In his more than two-hour speech titled "Uphold tradition, and fostering change", Datuk Seri Najib stressed that Umno is a party which championed the welfare of the people.
"Umno must not be seen as representing certain people. Instead, the party must be seen as an inclusive party which put the peoples' interests at the forefront, and not oneself".
He also criticised the opposition for branding Umno as a racist party.
"If it is true Malays are racist as alleged, we would not accommodate other ethnic groups such as vernacular schools, and it would not be possible for Umno to work with other races and component party members.”
Najib said following BN's heavy losses in last year's general election, the opposition had predicted the demise of Umno.
He said many people had wanted to “mentalqinkan” on Umno.
“They say Umno is buying extra time before it dies. This is not the first time that they have made such a prediction
“When a group of members split from Umno to form PAS, such premonition was made and similarly after the May 13, 1969 racial riots or the 1988 Umno elections, which led to the formation of Parti Semangat 46, or the 1999 elections.”
He said Malaysians had sent a strong message to Umno at the 2008 general election. However, he vouched that Umno would rise again.
“Alhamdulillah, Umno has managed to surpass all those challenges and we have managed to rise and become stronger. Umno was formed with the ulama, educationists, farmers, fishermen and traders.”
“If we remain united, work towards our common goal and put in the effort, we will climb the highest mountain and go down the deepest ravine and swim the deepest ocean. We shall overcome the odds,” he said.