The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the largest party in Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), is confident of winning the upcoming 14th general elections, which analysts have dubbed its “toughest battle ever”.
BN has ruled since 1957 when the country gained independence from the British.
The high cost of living, the goods-and-services tax (GST) and financial scandals in government-linked agencies have left some segments of society disgruntled, including UMNO’s base – Malay voters, who form the majority in the country.
UMNO treasurer-general Salleh Said Keruak told Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Friday (Apr 6) that the “Malay tsunami” touted by some opposition politicians will not happen as the country has undergone significant development under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
He took pains to stress the government recognises the rise in the cost of living as a result of the GST but assured that its benefits will soon be “felt” by the people.
NO MALAY TSUNAMI
“There will be no Malay tsunami in the 14th general elections. I am not saying we are the best party in the world but the alternative is awful,” Salleh told Channel NewsAsia.
Malaysia’s former and longest serving Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is currently leading the charge to oust Mr Najib from power.
Mahathir left UMNO in 2015 over the scandal-hit government investment firm 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and he had called for Mr Najib to step down to take responsibility for the firm’s financial troubles.
“The opposition, which has historically secured the bulk of its support from our Chinese population, should be more concerned about whether they (Chinese) will do so in this election as well,” said Salleh.
“That the opposition has aligned with someone like Mahathir, who repeatedly raised racial tensions while in power, should discourage Chinese voters from voting for the opposition,” Salleh added.
Salleh, who was also the communications and multimedia minister prior to the dissolution of parliament, is a Najib loyalist who is part of the prime minister’s inner circle.
Easy-going and humorous, his demeanour belies a sharp, political acumen gleaned from years of observing his father, Mohammad Said Keruak, a former chief minister of Sabah. He also holds a doctorate in political science from University Putra Malaysia.
BN TO RETAIN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY
According to Salleh, the country has made significant growth in the past five years, a fact which the media has largely ignored.
“The fact is that Malaysia’s economy has made enormous strides since Prime Minister Najib Razak took office in 2009. Our gross national income has increased by more than 50 per cent, 2.3 million new jobs have been created, unemployment and inflation have been kept low, and the prevalence of poverty has almost been eradicated,” said Salleh.
“While the media may choose to ignore all of this, the Malaysian people, whose lives have witnessed a drastic improvement over the past nine years, know better.
“We are therefore confident of retaining our majority in parliament,” Salleh added.
MAHATHIR’S DEPARTURE FROM UMNO
When Dr Mahathir left UMNO in 2015 and later launched his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) in 2017, it marked the third time UMNO has splintered, leading some analysts to question whether it can withstand the latest break-up.
Salleh dismissed the suggestions that Dr Mahathir’s departure has weakened UMNO.
“UMNO has never been more united, and therefore stronger, than it is today,” said Salleh.
“The departure of Mahathir and a handful of his cronies within the party, most of whom were retired and played no active role, has not had any impact,” said Salleh.
“PPBM is a collection of a motley group of political parties and political has-beens who have spent decades attacking each other.
“They pose no threat to UMNO. No party that has ever been created out of revenge and failure within UMNO, has ever succeeded in the history of Malaysia,” Salleh added
GST BENEFITS TO BE FELT SOON
On the issue of GST, Salleh said the government recognises the cost of living has increased due to the tax.
“We recognise GST resulted in a slight increase in the cost of living but, as numerous economists have made clear, the economy would be in significant trouble if the government had not introduced it at the time,” said Salleh.
“Instead of making decisions based on short-term electoral considerations, we took difficult decisions that were in the best interests of the nation and its people.
“This journey, towards strengthening our economy, is an on-going one and we are confident that those who have not yet seen the benefits will do so before too long,” Salleh added.