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Umno's main event for its 66th anniversary, hyped-up to be a Night of 1 million Malays, turned out to be a disappointment with many red-shirt-clad supporters openly indifferent to Prime Minister Najib Razak's keynote address, and some even walking out to buy refreshments as he spoke.
As expected, Najib - the Umno president - veered away from announcing the date for the 13th general election despite having made elaborate plans to do so at the gala event.
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"It shows there is something serious going on in Umno. Something is up and he has to bunker down. Najib's failures especially over the way he handled Bersih 2.0 and 3.0 will provide the opportunity for a major power struggle in Umno," PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
Indeed, less than 50,000 people were in the Bukit Jalil stadium on Friday night despite the mainstream media publishing glowing reports about a 'massive' attendance and standing-room only. Malaysia Chronicle's Nawawi Mohamad estimated the turnout based on the stadium's touted capacity of being able to contain 100,000 people. Certainly, throughout the night, more than half the stadium was unfilled.
The Umno crowd size is certainly in stark contrast to the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections attended by more than 250,000 Malaysians from all walks of life. But this is more than just a numbers game. The writing is on the wall and clear for all to see.
As pundits have predicted, Umno's time is up. It is the last amongst the big BN components to lose its hold on a people it ruled for the past 55 years. Like the Titanic, 'pirate-ship' Umno - most famous for its corruption rather than for any governance excellence - is sinking and irreversibly.
Police were beaten up - but not Bersih civilians?
In his speech, Prime Minister Najib Razak made a mockery of his own promised reforms and platform of 'moderation'. He was clearly one-sided and biased towards the Bersih 3.0 rally where the police were visibly and excessively violent - causing the worst bloodshed in Kuala Lumpur in recent history.
But to Najib, the police brutality was the fault of the Bersih participants and he called on the Umno crowd at Bukit Jalil to sympathize with the cops.
“Police were beaten up with baseball bats until they vomited blood. Are these civilised people?“ Najib told the crowd.
“If we in this stadium wanted to, we could take Dataran Merdeka. There are more of us than them. But Umno upholds the law. That is why we will not allow this. Umno will protect the dignity and image of the country."
This despite a rebuke from the United Nations on his administration's failure to follow standard human rights code in managing peaceful assemblies and the Malaysian Bar Council's own Final Report in which the council had called on the police and Najib's government to apologize to the country and pay compensation to the scores injured and hundreds detained against their civil rights.
Conspired with the press and the police to attack Bersih participants
It is also telling that Najib brushed off the visual evidence of the Bersih attendance, insisting that the Bukit Jalil crowd was larger.
Together with his defense of the police, it is irrefutable evidence of a conspiracy with the top guns of the Umno-controlled media as well as with the cops to attack Bersih civilians to quell the people's spirit and to stop them from demanding change and reform.
“If there were no clashes, then there is no story for CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera. That is their real purpose: To show we are a cruel government,” said Najib.
But indeed, of Malaysia's 6 prime ministers, not only is Najib the worst-performing, his record will leave indisputable proof that he was the most violent and cruel of the lot, including the dictatorial and ruthless Mahathir Mohamad.
Pitting Umno members against Malaysians
Opposition rivals also lambasted Najib for pitting Umno against Malaysians in his speech.
"Najib is trying to give Umno an even greater siege mentality than it already has. He is driving a wedge between the party members and all other Malaysians. This is not the mark of a good Umno president, a good Malay leader or a good Prime Minister at all. Only the lousy ones divide instead of unite," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
Mahathir, who came with his wife Siti Hasmah, did not make any speech last night.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called on Umno members to defend the party's Malays-first ideology which has through the years been twisted into a near apartheid system by the party's ruling elite as they rode on race-championing to increase their political power.
“Umno is the true defender of the people. We cannot allow our enemies destroy the unity and harmony we have built. Do not allow them to spread their twisted ideology that can sway our faith. Do not allow them to destroy our ethical and moral way of life,” said Muhyiddin.
Najib is due to make a 'walkabout' at the Bukit Jalil stadium later on Saturday. The 13-days Umno 66th anniversary celebration which began on May 1 will end on Sunday.
Najib is due to fly out for a week's holiday and there is speculation he may announce July GE-13 when he returns. However, given his flip-flops, the chances are higher he will try to maneuver holding the GE-13 only after the Umno party elections in October.
The battle for Umno begins
Already, the delay is causing a split in Umno ranks with party warlords upset at Najib for trying to manipulate the situation to his own political benefit.
Speculation is red-hot that Najib will choose a new line-up of Mentri Besars or chief ministers, dropping the old guard from his 'winnable' list of candidates to contest seats in the GE-13. For example, he is widely expected to make close aide Omar Mustapha - who helped design the controversial Felda IPO - the Johor Mentri Besar.
The infighting in Umno and the overdone hand of the right-wing faction led by Mahathir has also given a chance for the liberals in the party to gain ground.These so-called liberals include Shahril Samad, Sabaruddin Chik, Azmi Khalid and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Among those seen as posing a challenge to Najib in the Umno party election are his own deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, Malacca chief minister Ali Rustam, and even Adnan Yaakob, the Mentri Besar of his Pahang home state. The majority of the other chief ministers are also expected to line up against Najib and Mahathir.
"I think many in Umno despise Najib and Mahathir. The only supporter left for Najib is Mahathir and if Mahathir decides to dump him, he is history. After the 2008 GE, BN became irrelevant and Umno was the key party. But now, nobody cares about Umno. It is a lost cause and will lose many seats in GE-13. This is why Najib will cheat at the polls. There is no way he will put in reforms and the challenge for Malaysians now is how to make his administration do so," said Tian.
"In Umno, the warlords disrespect Najib for wasting so much money to promote himself at the party's expense. There are also many reasons from national issues and politics to personal chemistry. It does not help when his wife Rosmah Mansor is so demanding and the couple has been caught many times passing their personal bills to the public coffers."