KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 — Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh, the newly-elected Umno Youth chief, has asked the DAP to apologise for all the accusations it made against his party.
In a fiery policy speech delivered before hundreds of delegates at the Tun Razak Hall in World Trade Centre here, Dr Akmal said that the Pakatan Harapan component member should prove its sincerity about working with Umno by first admitting that it had made irresponsible allegations against it.
“If it can fly all the way to Sarawak, apologise to GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak), why can't it apologise to us for all the accusations made against us in the past,” he said.
“We want them to apologise... that would at least soothe the hearts of Umno members.”
The call underscores what Dr Akmal described as the need to draw clear “ideological boundaries” even as the two parties are now allies, a sign that Umno grassroots are likely still uncomfortable with the power-sharing arrangement that has made PH and Barisan Nasional office colleagues in the so-called unity government.
Up until November last year, the two parties had traded barbs for decades, often accusing each other of racial chauvinism. That changed after the 15th general election saw a first hung parliament as no single political bloc had enough seats to form a government, prompting PH and Umno to collaborate.
The move may have been well embraced by the upper leadership from both ends but not necessarily the grassroots. Dr Akmal’s speech appeared to underscore that point. Seemingly defending the alliance with DAP, the new Umno Youth chief said his party only agreed to form the unity government because it heeded the Agong’s plea for political stability.
“Today, Umno Youth wants to stress that we are with the unity government because we listened to the Agong’s call for national stability. We are together to form a government. We may share administrative space, but not ideological space,” he said.
As of late, that stability is being increasingly tested, as leaders from Umno have started to openly attack DAP.
That happened again today, when Dr Akmal claimed DAP had wronged his party repeatedly, and suggested ties in the unity government can be shaken unless DAP guarantees it would shed its image as a chauvinist party, including being “communist-centric”.
“Today, Umno Youth demands DAP prove that all the accusations, mindset, talks about DAP being anti-Malay, anti-Islam, racist, and communist-centric will not happen for the entire time it’s in the unity government,” he said.
“Apologise... if you want to soothe Umno leaders’ hearts. This is our way, no hiding and honesty we uphold.”
Umno Youth rebranded?
Several political analysts believe the open display of suspicion against DAP by some Umno leaders could just be posturing in an attempt to keep its power base ahead of crucial elections in six states.
Many of the party’s senior leadership have so far avoided feuding openly and have maintained that all members of the unity government are working together harmoniously, with all sides committed to see through Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s reform push.
Dr Akmal seemingly echoed that message as he addressed delegates this morning, declaring that the wing must shift away from “hate and populist politics” in a turnaround move to draw the grand old party back to its so-called pro-people roots amid waning support.
The Umno Youth leader said the wing will now focus on solving socio-economic problems of the Malays instead, declaring it would break away from the decades-old mould as the ultra-Malay platform of the party.
“We are no longer interested in the politics of power. We care more about the survivability of the Malay people from an economic sense. People no longer care about who is more Malay or Islamic,” he said.
This would entail courting voters by debating and proposing good pro-people policies and shunning race-baiting, he added. Among several strategies he outlined to rebrand Umno, the Youth wing chief made raising the intellectual standards as the topmost priority.
The first is to rebuild Umno Youth’s strength internally, although the Umno Youth chief was vague about how to go about it apart from him asserting that this exercise would “be done our way”.
With just months before the state elections, it remains unclear if Dr Akmal would succeed in turning Umno Youth’s fate around. Pundits are split about the rate of Malay youth support for the unity government, with some feeling that Perikatan Nasional may have the upper hand because of Umno’s corruption-stained image.
The new Umno Youth chief believes that could change if his party eradicates discriminatory practices that favours Umno’s gentocrats.
“If Umno wants to rejuvenate there’s no other way, the young must be given a chance to lead,” he said.