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CLEAR MESSAGE: Umno has recovered and is united under reformist Najib
IT is not often that Umno, the Barisan Nasional lynchpin, holds a grand celebration of its birthday. This year's is rather special -- there are reasons to celebrate.
Umno wants to use its 66th anniversary, themed "Umno: The People's Champion", to send a clear message, especially to people on the outside. It wants to recover its lustre as the parti keramat Melayu or the party of Malay pride and dignity.
Message No. 1 is that the party, after being humbled at the 2008 general election, has recovered and is now re-energised and committed not only to remain as the bedrock of Malay politics but in reviving the selfless spirit of its founding in 1946.
Secondly, it wants to show that it is united behind Datuk Seri Najib Razak as party president and prime minister, particularly his continuous efforts to initiate reforms for the betterment of the party, people and nation.
This being the case, and with a looming general election, a rousing welcome awaits Najib at tonight's gathering of Umno faithful at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, the climax of this year's celebration.
The more than 60,000 Umno crowd, who are expected to turn up in red, are eager to hear what Najib will say in his speech. Umno's official colour symbolises that it is still very much a mainstream player in Malaysian politics and that the party is ready to face the public again at the ballot box.
A party official says Najib will also use tonight's event to rally support since it is likely to be the last mass gathering of party members before Umno leads 12 other partners in the BN coalition into the 13th general election.
Umno and BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has confirmed that component party leaders and representatives would be joining in the celebration, a testament of the coalition's comradeship and spirit of togetherness.
Many party leaders say the Umno election machinery is ready to roll. Party workers are upbeat about a better showing in the coming polls with indications showing support on an upward trend.
Najib, in an interview with Umno Online, viewed the gathering of thousands not only as proof of the party's strength ahead of the next general election but also of its ability to assemble large numbers in peace.
"I see the 66th anniversary of Umno's birth as an opportune time for us to hold a gathering because it has been a while since we had a mass gathering. It is timely for us to do so, and everybody knows that the election is not too far away. So, it is proper for us to showcase to the people what Umno has done all these years."
Last year's celebration was low-key though merrier than the previous three, with the membership reviving the enthusiasm that had been so lacking in post-2008 celebrations.
The one held in 2008 particularly was the most dispirited, when the morale of Umno members was at an all-time low and a majority struggled to come to terms with the electoral setback.
Najib's biggest challenge since taking over Umno's helm is to reform the party consistent with his vision while carrying the party ground with him.
He has been consistent in fixing Umno's image and repairing the negative perception of the party.
He wants to win many more seats in the next polls with the reforms already introduced and in the pipeline. It is critical that Umno take the lead in defending Putrajaya against the opposition onslaught.
For Najib, Umno has to make a major comeback in the next national polls and cannot afford to fail in the big electoral test. It has to win a larger number of seats in order for BN to become a stronger government than today. To achieve this, Umno needs to be accepted by young people, who make up a large chunk of the country's 12.5 million registered voters.
A grand old party with six decades of history like Umno certainly needs to be rejuvenated in order to appeal to the masses, particularly young people.
Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has aptly elaborated on the need for Umno to continuously renew itself to stay relevant.
"At 66, even for an individual, what more a political organisation, the party has to revitalise itself and renew its spirit."
Party unity is crucial. The onus is on every one of its 3.3 million members to cast aside the differences and rivalries that slow down the party's reform process.