AFTER the March 2008 general election, when public sentiment against the Barisan Nasional (BN) swirled dark and hopes were bright for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)'s multicultural politics, Umno was everybody's favourite punching bag.
Perhaps riding on public sentiment that favoured the opposition, partners in the BN coalition were not afraid to complain of Umno being a bully and to openly discuss leaving the BN. How valid are such complaints, when today, two major BN component parties — the MCA and the MIC — have proven that their relevance is determined by Umno?
Fact is, by numbers alone, Umno cannot be less than the dominant party. Moving forward, what does Umno's current resurgence mean for the rest of the coalition and for the political landscape?
Recent events such as Umno's constitutional amendments to give more members a say in electing party leaders, and a leadership retreat to regroup the party, have added momentum to Umno's drive forward. Winning the Bagan Pinang by-election handsomely was also a huge morale booster.
But it would be misleading to think that Umno was somehow in the doldrums to begin with. Umno has always been strong, even when the BN as a whole was denied its two-thirds majority in Parliament at the 2008 polls. The party won at least 60% of the parliamentary seats it contested in 2008, while partners MCA and MIC only recouped about 30% of the seats they stood in. Gerakan was reduced to having only two Members of Parliament and was completely ousted out of Penang.
The real reason for Umno's revival, says political analyst Prof James Chin from Monash University Sunway Campus, is Datuk Seri Najib Razak's leadership.
"He is a systems person — he pays attention to the details — unlike Pak Lah, who was a big picture person," Chin says of former Umno president and former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Under Abdullah, Umno was weakened in that its strong players — the warlords — were sidelined, Chin explains.
Isa Samad"Najib is allowing those sidelined to make a comeback, as seen with Tan Sri Isa Samad. This gets the party machinery moving again as the grassroots base of these warlords are reactivated now that their leader is back in the game," Chin tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.
Umno's strength is also derived from the government machinery. By controlling the civil service, notes Chin, infighting in other component parties will have little impact on the BN's overall strength.
With access to government institutions and funds, the BN can still address public demands even if its key component parties are in disarray. And with votes in East Malaysia heavily tied to development, the BN can ensure that its "fixed deposits" there remain intact by delivering on development promises.
By; Deborah Loh @ Thenutgraph.com