As Umno celebrates its 71st anniversary, New Straits Times sits down with Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman to get his views on the strength of the party in the state.
Razif openly shared his thoughts and plans in mobilising Umno’s election machinery in the state in order to win back the two-third majority for Barisan Nasional.
Question: Umno has gone through many phases in its struggle and emerged ever stronger as it tackled issues. As the party has matured, what do you see as the biggest challenge for Umno in Terengganu and how will Umno in the state prepare itself to meet these challenges?
Answer: I often stressed on the need for political transformation in order for Umno, especially in Terengganu, to remain highly relevant. While I am cautiously optimistic of our chances in Terengganu to perform well in the next general election, I am deeply aware that there are at least two challenges that we must overcome.
First is the challenge of having the correct mind set. Having the correct mind set means that Umno members have to tune themselves to the needs of the people. It means that we must continue listening and respond effectively. We must accept the fact that there will never be permanent political enemies. We must also brace ourselves to face the impact of a younger voting population that has little affiliation to the nation’s political history. We have no choice but to respond positively, including by having more candidates who fulfil what the voting market wants. Otherwise we will fail. It is as simple as that.
The second challenge is forging closer unity amongst members. Umno was built on the strength of the unity of its members. This is the key to Umno being able to hold on to power since the country’s Independence.
I believe that we have improved ourselves on this issue. There may be differences but so far, UMNO members in Terengganu understand that there is a bigger agenda and that agenda is to win in the next GE. We are also reminded that nobody, including myself, is bigger than Umno and its noble struggle.
Q: There is no doubt that the 71st anniversary is a platform where the party leadership would psych members at all levels to be prepared for the coming general election. In the case of Terengganu, how will the battle drums raise the spirit among members to work towards winning back the two-third majority for Barisan Nasional?
A: We didn’t do too well in the last GE. It was close. And as a result there were a few difficult moments due to the thin winning majority of seats in the State Legislative Assembly. Nonetheless, I believe, with the support of party members, we have somewhat been able to weather the storm and kept moving forward. And for that I would like to thank my colleagues for their support.
Many Terengganu Umno members will also recall the day when Umno/BN Terengganu lost to Pas in the 1999 GE. I believe none of them wants history to repeat itself.
We have done well so far. Again, with the support of my colleagues in the government and party, we have recorded more than 100 meaningful Terengganu success stories. These success stories reflect the spirit of Terengganu Boleh. More importantly, they provide evidence that we are in fact, in the right direction.
Q: At this stage, and apart from working towards a convincing victory in the general election, what would be your concern at the various levels in the party and what strength have you identified to face the opposition?
A: As mentioned earlier, I am cautiously optimistic of a BN win in the next GE in Terengganu. The president has successfully galvanised party members towards a common priority. We are consolidating ourselves, focussing on winning the next GE.
The opposition is in disarray. You seldom see the opposition air their dirty linen in public. Lately however, the simmering internal conflicts have now become more apparent. They cannot even agree on a logo.
But we cannot rely on the fragility and incoherence of the opposition coalition in order to win. Therefore, we have mobilised our party elections machinery at all levels. It is all systems go. We are preparing ourselves very well. Preparation therefore, is the key to the answer. It is just like taking a big exam. You may have some concerns, but if you are well prepared, it should not be too much of a problem. Other than that, we leave it to Allah to decide the outcome.
Q: A recent survey at the various polling centres by Umno indicated that the party is well prepared for the general election. However, the use of the social media to disseminate information has not been effective. What will be the plan to make the machinery more effective?
A: A lot has been said about the influence and impact of the social media in Malaysian politics. Umno does have some catching up to do. But we are closing the gap.
The challenge is to counter attacks made against Umno and its leadership, effectively and speedily.
I try to look at things in a positive way though. While we know the opposition has a slight upper hand in the use of the social media for political gain, their eagerness to attack and create public animosity against the ruling party eventually revealed their own foolishness.
My point is, we should use more of social media to highlight our success stories than to respond to baseless and at times, incredulous accusations and lies.
I cannot say more of this; otherwise I will have to reveal what our strategies are in the public sphere.
Q: How is Umno tackling the young, first-time voters who seemed confused over issues raised by opposition-led social media?
A: The young and first-time voters have their own concerns and issues. We just need to identify and understand what those issues are and respond to them. I believe that if we answer the needs of the young voters, we will be able to win their hearts and mind. Let me give you an example. Based on our earlier engagement with the young generation in Terengganu, there was a request made to the state government, to build a motorcycle race track. It would provide an opportunity for motorcycle enthusiasts to pursue their interest to do sprint tests and the like, in a safe and proper manner.
So we took that suggestion seriously and in less than two years, we have successfully completed the building of the Motorcycle Race Track in Gong Badak, Kuala Terengganu. It is currently being used now, especially at night. By doing so, we have also managed to eliminate the problem of Mat Rempits. We are happy, and I believe the young people are also happy.
We have also identified three key people-centric issues that are important and must therefore be addressed. The first issue is employment. The second issue is housing and the third is to address the issue of affordability in light of rising living costs. Steps are being taken to address these three issues and I will make announcements on them from time to time.
Q: How will Umno relate its 71 years of struggle to the younger members/voters?
Q:: Umno is the pillar of Barisan Nasional. We embrace moderate policies and we care about the well-being of all other races in Malaysia through the concept of power sharing. This concept has always been one of the strengths of Malaysia, and I believe it forever will be.
We are progressing well as a nation. Malaysia is continuously transforming itself into a highly respectable developing nation.
This is because change in leadership has been passed down continuously and smoothly to a breed of new leaders without fail and much disruption. It meant stability to the nation, which is very, very important.
My advice therefore is, do join the struggle for a much better Malaysia. Malaysia is not a failed country. There are proper plans in place, with many have been, are being and will be implemented. The future of Malaysia lies in the hands not of the current generation of leaders but in those of the next. And the best vehicle to pursue such bright future of this country lies not elsewhere but through Umno and Barisan Nasional.
I also would like to take this opportunity to wish Happy 71st Anniversary to all Umno members in the country.