KUALA LUMPUR: United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Friday (Jun 9) said that the party has never wavered from its stance of championing the rights of the Malays, Bumiputera as well as defending the sanctity of Islam in the country.
He also stressed that UMNO party leaders and its grassroots should not be apologetic for championing these issues.
“UMNO, in facing the new political reality, has made political adjustments without diluting the position of Islam and without sacrificing the agenda of Malay Bumiputera and without gambling the fate of the people as a whole,” he said during his opening speech at the party’s general assembly.
“If anyone tries to play on sentiments that our political cooperation will erode the position of Islam, Malays and the Bumiputera, I would like to emphasise: UMNO is not a political chameleon,” said Ahmad Zahid.
Also present during the general assembly were Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and other leaders from the parties in the unity government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Ahmad Zahid, who is also the deputy prime minister of Malaysia, said that fundamental issues involving Islam, Malays and Bumiputera have never been challenged by their political partners in the unity government.
“My hope is that this reciprocity will erase our mutual suspicions. Let there be no more statements that can hurt us.
“To our friends, don't hurt the feelings of the Malays. It's the same with us, avoid speech and actions that can invite restlessness of friends and colleagues,” he said.
After the last general election resulted in a hung parliament, Barisan Nasional (BN) became part of the unity government led by PH, together with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) and Parti Warisan among others.
UMNO is a component party of BN.
On Friday, Ahmad Zahid said there were attempts to portray UMNO as having abandoned its principles, bringing up the example of the “Allah” issue.
He stressed, however, that the party has not “budged one inch on the issue”.
On May 15, the Malaysian government’s decision to withdraw an appeal against a ruling allowing Christians to use the word "Allah" in publications sparked controversy over the decades-long debate.
“UMNO and our representatives in the Cabinet have stressed that the word ‘Allah’ cannot be used by non-Muslims. It is also the stance taken by the unity government,” said Ahmad Zahid.
He also said that the change in politics worldwide and in Malaysia demanded that they make adjustments for the future.
“The evolution of world politics has seen many countries now form multi-party governments, either in the name of a coalition government or a unity government.
“Political parties that were previously at odds and could not be together, now join together to form a government, for the sake of the people,” said Ahmad Zahid.
He added that UMNO needed to be progressive in nature taking into account the political developments.
“Progressive nature means a government that focuses on the development of the country and the people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion and political beliefs.
“The benefits of development must be equally distributed. If the Peninsula is more developed in terms of the economy, then Sabah and Sarawak are also entitled to have it,” he said, adding that the unity government should be given a chance in carrying out its plans for the country.
Separately, Ahmad Zahid also said the party would be facing elections in six states – Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.
He added that UMNO would work in a “spirit of togetherness” with the other parties in the unity government.
Ahmad Zahid stressed that UMNO carried a huge responsibility in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, also known as the “Malay belt”.
“If we really want to see Islam and Malays excel - together with the government in Putrajaya - (we) will strengthen the moderate and progressive Malay Islamic agenda,” he said.
JUSTICE FOR NAJIB
During his speech, Ahmad Zahid also called for justice for former prime minister Najib Razak who was jailed in relation to a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Najib became the first Malaysian premier to be imprisoned after Malaysia's Federal Court in August last year upheld a guilty verdict and a 12-year prison sentence handed down to him by a lower court.
“UMNO wants justice for Najib,” Ahmad Zahid said to loud cheers from the delegates in the hall.
Ahmad Zahid also told Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and her family to remain patient and strong.
“May God answer our prayers and that he returns to the family and also to us,” he added.
Najib, 69, can no longer challenge the conviction in court, but he has applied for a royal pardon which if successful could see him released without serving the full 12-year prison term.
Mr Anwar, who returned to UMNO headquarters 25 years after being sacked by the party in 1998, told reporters that he attended the general meeting to strengthen the camaraderie within the unity government.
The last time the prime minister addressed the UMNO general assembly was in June 1998.
“The important thing is to complete the task for the country. My personal experience is important but it cannot overcome the interests of the people and the interests of the country.
“I am here because I am using this platform of unity to strengthen the government and provide benefits to the people,” he said.
Mr Anwar, who was also seen singing UMNO’s anthem and waving its flag, said that he felt comfortable and used to the atmosphere there.
Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Anthony Loke told reporters that it was time to move on from past political differences and unite to ensure the stability of the government.
“I agree with the UMNO president’s speech that we should forget about the past and unite for the sake of the country. For me, we should move on from any feud we had been having all this while.
“We have already formed a government for six months and it is doing well,” he said when asked to respond to calls for the party to apologise to UMNO for supposed past transgressions.