DATUK Seri Najib Razak had cleared his diary one or two days before Thursday’s 71st Umno anniversary just to focus on his all-important speech.
The Umno president’s address was the only speech of the night and he knew that he had to deliver the right message to party members and voters, given that this will be the last such do before the next general election.
It will be a major electoral test for Najib, who will be leading Umno and Barisan Nasional for the second time into the GE, widely expected to be called by the end of this year.
To the credit of the organisers, the turnout on Thursday was overwhelming with the entire Bukit Jalil National Stadium turned into a sea of red.
Najib got rousing cheers as soon as he stepped into the stadium and was driven around the 400-metre track in a golf buggy as the audience recited “Selawat ke atas Rasul” and sang patriotic songs.
Top Umno leaders gathered around him as he delivered a powerful 40-minute address to rally his party and launch scathing attacks on the opposition and former Umno strongman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The mood was electrifying. “He really got the crowd going,” said one commentator.
Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil noted that more than half the crowd were women.
Umno members had come from far and near and some delegates said there were not enough buses to ferry more people.
Umno had cancelled the 70th anniversary celebration last year as a mark of respect for the two Umno MPs who were killed in a helicopter crash in Sarawak.
Najib left for China the same night for a series of meetings with Chinese government and business leaders and to attend the China-led Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.
Next weekend, he will be in Saudi Arabia as a guest of Saudi ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, for the Arab-Islamic-US summit on May 21.
The summit will be attended by US President Donald Trump and key Arab and Muslim leaders.
They include Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Jordan Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, King of Morocco Mohammed VI, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Other attendees are Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Iraqi President Dr Fuad Masum, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Beyond the pomp and pageantry, Najib’s message that night was simple and clear: Umno must continue to be relevant to the Malays and Malaysians in general and that it must adapt to the changing times.
As Najib once said: “Umno’s strength as a political party relies greatly on its ability to understand the needs of its members. Its relevance rests on capturing the imagination of the Malays and Malaysian society as a whole.”
In other words, the Umno-led BN must continue to ensure that the people’s wants and needs are taken care of.
These include addressing the bread-and-butter issues that affect every Malaysian.
Political rhetoric alone is not enough. The government of the day must match its words with action.
People are now concerned with job opportunities and security of jobs, lack of affordable housing, education, healthcare, rising cost of living and high rate of street crime.
Value systems such as transparency, accountability and good governance are no doubt very important too.
But ask any one on the street. One of the most worrying issues is the rising prices of food and other main essentials. RM100 can’t fill up your supermarket trolley these days.
I asked someone the other day how much he spent on a simple lunch of rice and two dishes to take away. The response was RM7. That’s what he could afford for lunch.
There are some retirees who complain that government hospitals are short of funds to stock certain prescription drugs.
More working people now worry about their take-home salary, as costs are rising much faster than wages.
If you are single and live in KL, you need at least RM2,700 per month to survive. Many turn to doing a second job to earn an extra income.
More ominously, a recent Bank Negara survey showed more than 75 per cent of Malaysians find it difficult to even raise RM1,000 to meet emergency needs.
On Malaysians’ preparation for retirement, only 40 per cent are financially ready.
The central bank’s survey also showed that a mere six per cent of salaried Malaysians are able to sustain themselves for more than six months if they lose their jobs, the main source of their income.
The government has been pushing hard to bolster the economy, draw foreign direct investments and invest in big infrastructure projects to help create more jobs and raise income.
The private sector, too, needs to help. We can’t delegate the task of job-creation just to the public sector.
Any unnecessary red tape that hinders business must be done away with too.
The writer feels in a digital world, the winner does not always take all