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NEW BN APPROACH: Component parties must trust Najib’s judgement in picking candidates who will ensure victory
BN chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is driving home the message that BN can no longer nominate candidates the way it did previously because of a better prepared opposition. For Najib, it is vital that BN fields only the electable. It is one of the key factors to ensure victory for the coalition.
BN has to field personalities who are acceptable to voters. They can be incumbents, fresh faces from the rank and file, outsiders, non-party members or even recycled former winners.
It may appear, based on readings taken by the BN, that the coalition has not much cause for worry about losing Putrajaya.
BY now, partners in the ruling Barisan Nasional would have resolved that the coalition has to move away from convention in determining who makes the cut as election candidates.
But BN needs higher numbers to rule the country more effectively and, hence, all agree that the ultimate aim is to win comfortably at the next general election and restore the two-thirds majority in Parliament that was lost in 2008. Equally important is that the margin of victory translates into sustainability in delivering on election promises.
Najib has repeatedly assured component parties that he would be cautious in deciding who would make the cut as BN candidates in what is widely expected to be a closely fought general election. The 13 component parties will have to trust his judgment.
No doubt there will be discontent because of the changes Najib is expected to make in many of the 222 parliamentary and 576 state constituencies. He has gone on record during the Umno general assembly last year in saying that there would be more new faces than in the previous general election.
BN circles also expect he would reject candidates proposed by component parties, like he did for the April 2010 Hulu Selangor by-election. Using his prerogative as BN chairman, Najib chose P. Kamalanathan over the MIC's nomination of its then deputy president and now president, Datuk G. Palanivel. Kamalanathan won back the seat for BN, which it had lost to Parti Keadilan Rakyat in 2008.
There have also been suggestions of basing the distribution of seats on the benchmark of a 51 per cent voter majority.
It is clear why BN needs to adopt a new approach in selecting candidates: its opponents have become more aggressive after 2008 and voters are more discerning.
The mood of the masses is less predictable amid an increasingly volatile political environment as the general election looms.
BN Component parties should realise that ground realities no longer make it feasible to stick to the old seat distribution arrangement. They will either have to swap seats or give them up for the common good.
BN component parties were humbled at the last national polls, making it inevitable that they compromise and sacrifice.
Now that the hunt for candidates has moved closer to its final stage, with component parties being asked to submit names of prospective candidates, speculation is rising as to what the line-up would look like.
The list of candidates submitted by Umno's 161 divisions to party headquarters, as required under its constitution, is being scrutinised.
Other component parties are expected to send their lists to BN headquarters by the end of the month.
Although Umno divisions did accede to the party's quest for winnable candidates by proposing those not in the party hierarchy, some, according to Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, were not "outsiders".
Some divisional leaders still want the last say on who gets to contest in the parliamentary and state seats in their areas. Grassroots gossip is full of tales of divisions trying to sneak in their preferences.
A division leader from a northern state, when confronted by a committee member on why he was calling for a meeting to decide on the nominees when he had quietly submitted his own list, insisted that a new list would be the division's final list. After deliberations, the division ended up sending the names of all its committee members for the seats in its area.
Another division chief in the south, without calling for a meeting to decide the nominees, was said to have submitted his name, along with two others who were not eligible to contest for a parliamentary seat.
Among other BN component parties, rumours are circulating that incumbents will not be re-nominated because they are not in the good books of their party leaders.
It is hard for BN component parties to forego their traditional veto on their candidates. They have always been given a free hand in selecting candidates to contest seats that had been allocated to them since the formation of the Alliance, BN's predecessor, in the late 1950s.
Najib has said he would listen to the people when choosing candidates for the next general election and what he picked up would form the main criteria for BN's winnable candidates.
"It is only right that, as a leader, I listen to the people. So, I will make a decision that his or her time is up and he or she should not stand as a candidate anymore," he had said in a recent radio interview.
The prime minister knows that he will be blamed for dropping certain potential candidates, but he does not mind because he cannot please everyone in his mission to do what is right for the people.