KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 2): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave a special interview to the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) in conjunction with the 2013 Umno General Assembly, at his office at Parliament House today. The interview was given to a team of senior journalists led by General Manager Datuk Yong Soo Heong and Editor-in-Chief Datuk Zulkefli Salleh. In the 40-minute interview, Najib, who is also the Umno president, spoke of the challenges, hopes and direction of Umno in the wake of the 13th general election in May and the party elections in October.Following is the English translation of extracts of the transcript of the interview: Umno Question: In what way has the 13th General Election had an impact on the Umno leadership pattern and transformation?Answer: Umno, being a party in power for a long time, has to look ahead to the future because success, however great it may be, is no guarantee of success in the future, more so with the country's political landscape having undergone a change. In terms of a demographic change, a technological change and with a higher level of education. This means that to remain relevant, Umno must be prepared to undergo transformation to reflect that it is a party for the future of the Malays and the nation as a whole.Q: After you secured a fresh mandate in the 13th General Election and the recent party elections, there was talk that there has been a change in your style of leadership and direction, especially with the launch of the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment agenda. A: No ... you must understand that I am also the president of Umno. The pillar of Umno's struggle is championing the position of the Malays and Islam. Although we champion the Muslim Malays, it does not mean that we neglect the other communities. We have never done that. The policy of bumiputera economic empowerment is consistent with what Umno has been doing since its inception. The only difference is in the methodology. I always place emphasis on being market friendly. The basis must be merit, not handouts. Not rent-seeking, not the quota system, but more towards the development of the Malays and bumiputeras based on what is necessary and should be given to uphold social justice. We try to provide more opportunities, but cannot guarantee the outcome.It is inevitable that we should rectify the situation of those who have been marginalised from the mainstream for so long as a result of the long colonial era. We have to equalise opportunities in the country without denying the rights of the other communities. Q: There have been many transformation programmes in Umno. How far have the members been able to accept the ideas you have introduced? A: I feel that I have fulfilled a part of my desire when we conducted the (party) elections based on the new constitution. It is the general feeling that Umno has taken a bold and futuristic move by enlarging the 'constituency' that elects Umno leaders, including at the highest level. The ability of Umno to have managed the elections, from Arau (Perlis) to Semporna (Sabah), with an additional 150,000 or so delegates is an achievement beyond comparison among political parties in the country. I am proud of this achievement. It goes to show that Umno has responded to what we have intended for us to be more democratic, more aggressive.Going forward, we have to consolidate the values of Umno's struggle so that we discard what we feel is unhealthy. Umno must emerge as a party that champions, gives preference to the people and avoids seeking power merely for the sake of power. We must be a party that always places the interest of the people above everything else. Q: Are you satisfied with the result of the party elections in October? Did it meet your expectations?A: I have to accept it. As a leader who upholds the principles of democracy, I have to accept the decision of the delegates. It's not a matter of my choice, as an individual or as the party president. It is the wish of the party members. I have to accept and respect that. The decision has made me the choice of Umno members who represent the 3.4 million party members, through the 150,000 delegates (who voted), and I will be with those elected. Q: But the election result appears to symbolise the party's aspirations rather than the people's? A: We see it as the Umno members' choice. We try to align the wishes of Umno members with that of the people. We cannot know if it can be aligned fully until the general election is held. That's why I constantly emphasise on the winnable candidate, not just for the sake of the party but also for the people, one who can win in a particular constituency. The hardest part is the definition of 'winnable candidate' as everyone interested in contesting thinks they are winnable candidates. This is our challenge.But the reality is that if we want our party to succeed, we must define the 'winnable' concept with honesty and sincerity. Q: What is the future plan to build an Umno that reflects positive values and search for more winnable candidates? A: We must expand the process of training Umno leaders at all levels. We cannot accept Umno members without educating them through certain courses. We have to mould them to think of the best way to chart a new path in the context of a new environment, new politics. It's no longer the old politics. Those who don't understand the new politics would be rejected by the people. Therefore, Umno needs to adapt itself and prepare leaders who appreciate the new politics. Barisan Nasional Q: Umno's transformation move is considered radical and bold and its effect has been seen to strengthen members' support for the party. Should the other component parties emulate such a move as well? A: Each component party has to go through the same process but some of them must resolve their internal conflicts first before embarking on a transformation process. I believe they realise that the fate of their parties depends on the extent to which there is a political will to transform into a party which is acceptable to the people. Q: The component parties are not as strong as before and it appears now that Umno has to work harder. How is Umno going to deal with this challenge? A: Umno will help to strengthen our friends. But those who are facing internal problems need to set their houses in order to become more acceptable to the communities they represent. And, if they get increasing support, this will ensure BN's future success without being solely dependent on Umno's support. Q: Some are of the opinion that if Umno is too strong, the component parties will become weak, leading to a perception that the government only favours the interests of the bumiputeras/Malays. Is this true? A: No. We always give them the scope. I am open. All party or government decisions are not forced on them. We adopt a consensus approach/method. Policies are made through open discussions. And when a decision is made it is based on the support from all quarters. Q: The opposition is often seen to be engaging in polemics, expressing differences of opinion openly in the media while the BN appears to be in control, with no open debates among the component parties. How do you see this comparison? A: We are the ruling party. The impact of a split up will be far worse than if we are otherwise. The opposition does not make policies but the BN does. If there is open conflict, it will damage our credibility as a government. We encourage differences of opinion behind closed doors. In this way, it's not too noticeable. It's as though they (component parties) don't voice out something.But the reality is that the opinions and wishes of all the communities are debated in private before we reach a decision. Q: So, it does not necessarily mean they (the opposition) are more democratic than the BN? A: No. Furthermore, they (the opposition) are not a real coalition because they're contesting under three separate symbols and are not even registered as a coalition. They're constantly clashing among themselves on where they stand and, until today, do not have a shadow cabinet. There are many other matters which do not reflect the two-party system. In fact, BN is not faced with a two-party system but a multi-party system with a variety of manifestos. BN is actually facing three parties, not one. Although they're called the Pakatan Rakyat they are a very loose opposition coalition. Q: The opposition always speaks of values which appear great but in practical terms do not practise what they preach. Unfortunately, some BN people appear to be swayed by such talk and feel inferior as though the opposition have ideas which are more noble. What do you think of this? A: The opposition are clever at portraying that they're struggling for something more magnificent than the BN. They try to occupy the high ground, but in terms of action they are inconsistent and contradict themselves. This is what we need to highlight. I will also touch on this in my speech. Q: It is not easy to be an inclusive Umno president and prime minister. In view of what happened during the last general election, how do you regard the healing action in the context of consolidating the nation? A: It is for this reason that I launched the 1Malaysia concept, with the meaning and values associated with 1Malaysia. I did not see 1Malaysia as an initiative or cyclical effort just for the 13th General Election, but as a necessity in the context of nation building. So, if we adhere to the 1Malaysia concept as well as the Constitution and Rukunegara, I believe we can strengthen national unity and national harmony. Q: Datuk Seri, in the 13th General Election, Umno received the support of the majority of Malays but less support from the non-Malays. In view of this, will you continue with the 1Malaysia concept or make certain changes? A: Nothing seems to be the problem with what we are doing now. We have to give attention to the minority groups, empower the economy of bumiputeras (including the non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak). We have special programmes for the Indians. And, we do not adopt measures that can hurt the feelings of the Chinese. Whatever the decision adopted, it is a choice made in the democratic process. Nevertheless, we hope that the future of our country will be more secure with moderate, progressive, inclusive and fairer policies championed by Umno.Q: Are you confident that before the 14th General Election, the BN government has the time to convince the Chinese community that the BN is the best choice they have? A: We have to work towards that. This is not merely a question of the general election. In the context of nation building, we do not want the estrangement between the Malays and the Chinese to divide us. We must find ways and means to bridge the gap in relations among the communities in the country because the future of our nation is far too valuable. Q: Various efforts have been made to convince the people that Umno also champions the other communities, but the people do not seem to have noticed this. What is Umno going to do to make this more discernible?A: We have to have more activities on the BN theme. At times, the BN is not active at the grassroots, meetings are rarely held. If we can, we should activate the BN at this level. They are more or less dormant, only coming to life when the election approaches. So, we want to introduce programmes associated with the BN besides the programmes carried out by Umno. Q: The Umno General Assembly this time is being held after the general election and after getting the mandate of the party. What is the key message that you want to convey to the delegates?A: The future challenges in terms of the party, the Malays, Muslims and the nation as a whole. I want to get Umno members to look ahead. My speech will focus on the future challenges, not just the achievements which are public knowledge. The appreciation of the success has to be pointed out as well. Q: Meaning, this is in tune with the nature of the young who like to look ahead rather than hear stories which are already history? A: The fact is, it's not only the young people. People of all ages also like to look ahead. They want to know the direction that Umno will take the country, whether our vision for the future convinces them or otherwise. This is what we must present, portray. Q: The government has taken various measures to empower the bumiputera economic position. Will you be touching on this point in your president's policy speech? A: Yes, I will speak on this because there are two problems. One is the structural change we inherited from the colonial era ... through the divide-and-rule policy that weakened the structure and took a long time to rectify.The other is to develop or strengthen our culture in an ever competitive world economy, which takes time.Q: What do you hope to achieve at the end of this assembly?A: It is my hope that Umno members will return with the conviction that we are on the right track and need to offer support and trust to the Umno leadership to lead our nation towards fulfilling the vision and objective that we all desire.Secondly, I hope that Umno members realise that they themselves must undergo this transformation process. It cannot merely take place at the level of the policy or organisation. Umno members themselves must realise that they should reflect the transformation that we desire. Only then will the transformation of Umno be complete. Q: The best platform for Umno to garner the support of the non-Malays is during the general assembly itself. Unfortunately, the delegates only champion the Malays in their speeches and forget about their friends from the other communities. Can we expect to see a change this time?A: We are faced with a situation where the delegates speak for their own liaison committees and focus more on issues close to their heart. Nevertheless, we will advise them not to say anything that can hurt the feelings of the non-Malays and not to turn this forum into a theatre to attack others. We have to portray Umno as being inclusive. Although we are a bumiputera party, we must remember that Umno also takes along the other communities to a more secure future.Q: At the end of the general assembly, what do you think is the key message that the delegates must send to the Malays and Malaysians? A: That Umno is a party of hope for our nation, not just for the Malays and Muslims but for the whole nation. And, we must portray ourselves as a party that always gives preference to the people in all matters. Most importantly, we must be conscious of the people's needs. We must be the people's party.
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