‘UMNO PLANS FOR ALL MALAYSIANS’
Consistency has kept Umno on track for the past seven decades to remain the best choice for Malaysians, Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein tells ADRIAN LAI in a special interview in conjunction with Umno's 71st anniversary
Question: What is the significance of Umno’s 71st anniversary and does it have any special meaning for you?
Answer: This anniversary is especially significant because the party’s journey has not been a short one. At 71, we are still relevant and strong. Personally, as the grandson of Umno’s founder Datuk Onn Jaafar, I am very thankful, for it has not been an easy road for Umno these past seven decades.
We have overcome many challenges in recent years, just as how Umno in the past, under Onn’s leadership, overcame numerous tests. But this will give us the strength to face even bigger challenges in the future. I am very happy because Umno has realised that it is not only about its party members.
We are leading the Malay community, the ummah and the government. This is a responsibility that we cannot take for granted. If we become complacent, we will not survive for long. Now that the 14th General Election (GE14) is fast approaching, we must reach out to the people.
Umno members alone will not determine the party’s survival. It is the people who will decide whether we survive or not. So, we must redouble our efforts to make Umno inclusive. I am happy because the people’s support for us shows that we are on the right track.
What is the main message Umno wants to deliver to the public during its 71st anniversary on Thursday?
A: We want to tell them that Umno is a responsible party. We want them to know that Umno’s leaders are trustworthy and plan not only for the Malays, but all Malaysians. We want to show the true image of Islam. And, despite the global economic uncertainty, we have persevered.
All these things require leaders who take action for the sake of the people, and not political dividends. Some of the things we do may not be popular, but we will not compromise the country’s future, security and unity.
I admit that we are not perfect and we have many weaknesses,
Q: Besides Umno, other parties, including Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, claim to defend the rights of the Malays. What sets Umno apart from its opponents?
A: Consistency. We have been consistent in our stance since Onn’s era.
We have never shifted the goalpost and I think it’s brave to maintain our principles in today’s populist world. Onn knew that Umno would not be able to rule if we did not practise inclusivity, or if we were just after the Malay votes. To some extent, Onn’s vision was realised through the creation of Barisan Nasional.
This is what the opposition has been trying to copy, but failed. I hope the people can judge for themselves whether BN’s and Umno’s consistency can be translated into support for us in GE14. There lies the real challenge.
Q: Could you elaborate on Umno’s weaknesses and what needs to be done to correct them?
A: No party in this world is perfect. Many parties that were founded in the same year as Umno have ceased to exist. Umno fought for the country’s independence and we are still fighting for the people today.
For example, inclusivity. It’s important to make sure that the people give us a chance to serve them, and not certain “tribes” in Umno. If Umno members do not realise this, then we will be left behind. We must also listen more to the aspirations of the youth. They will shape the country’s future and what we do today must be based on their needs.
Q: Can you respond to claims that your recent appointment as special functions minister will drive a wedge between you and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi?
A: First of all, I want to thank Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for entrusting me with this great responsibility. But people must realise that my appointment was discussed by the three of us — Najib, Zahid and myself.
We have been discussing this for a long time. The tasks in the party and the government are getting heavier and they must be delegated.
If there are issues that cannot be resolved at the state level or at the Umno Supreme Council, it will be up to us three to resolve them. I don’t see this being a problem for any of us, except perhaps the people below us. If there is no tension, they cannot cari makan (survive). They like it when their leaders fight among themselves.
The three of us are sincere in what we do and we are serious about our jobs in the party. In the end, these people will give up trying to pit us against each other. I want to state, once and for all, that I am on good terms with Zahid.
It was Zahid who recommended me for the post of special functions minister.
Q: Several top Umno members have recently left the party to form their own parties. Do you think this will affect Umno’s strength and future?
A: It was the same in the past. My grandfather, who founded Umno, left the party to form Parti Negara.
There were top Umno Johor leaders who left the party, but because of the state chapter’s maturity, the party’s interests were placed first. Even Onn was sidelined because Umno members at the time could not accept his ideas.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein
but we will be able to correct these weaknesses together with the people. After attending Umno’s leadership retreat recently, I see that our leaders have realised that what we are fighting for is much larger than ourselves.