PUTRAJAYA: Following is the transcript of the interview with Prime Minister and UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of UMNO on May 11.
The interview was conducted at the Prime Minister’s Office by Prof Dr Azizul Halim Yahya, Dean of the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara.
In the interview, Najib shared his views on UMNO’s struggle and survival, the current challenges he faces, and the empowerment of the Bumiputera economy.
QUESTION: Datuk Seri, would you mind sharing the experience and memories you had with your late father Tun Abdul Razak, and identify the qualities that he instilled in you?
NAJIB: I have so many memories of being with my father. I saw him as a leader who placed great emphasis on his service for the country and the people. He spent most of his time thinking about the people and the country. No much time was left for any other activities. Even during his day off or when on vacation, he would remain dedicated and committed to his duties like a man with a mission so close to his heart.
That is why, when asked what I learned from him, I can say that we must place great emphasis on and take seriously our commitment to serving the people, the country and the party.
Secondly, to always think how the people and the country benefit from our decisions. So, those are the qualities that I have inherited directly and indirectly from my father.
QUESTION: Was there any word of advice given by your late father? A specific advice that you vividly remember and use until today to help you govern our country?
NAJIB: His advice to me when I was in school was to study hard and diligently to get good results, to be the best in class, if possible. That advice also taught me that if we want to do something, we must go all out in doing it so that we will get the best results. It is the determination in doing what we do.
Secondly, I have witnessed my father’s concern and deep commitment to taking care of the people’s wellbering. No matter how busy he was, if villagers came to see him, they will get his attention.
That means, their wellbeing had always been close to my father’s heart.
QUESTION: In regards to UMNO’s 70th anniversary on May 11; UMNO began with a pledge to unite the Malays and to eventually obtain independence. Do you see the value of UMNO’s struggle and the sacrifices made by its members during the early years of its establishment as still the same today?
NAJIB: I don’t see any difference…if UMNO was established as a party for the Malays from all groups and had broken the walls between those groups and associations and states, it shows that we do not just focus on state affairs, but also on country and national affairs…that is the principle we must hold on to and observe until today.
So, Malay unity and solidarity are the thrusts…the pillars of our strengths. As long as we stay united, the Malays will always have the extra power.
QUESTION: Unlike the many political parties in the world which had failed to retain power, UMNO has been able to do so since the country gained Independence in 1957. What actually the recipes that UMNO had used to retain power and what should be done by the party to stay relevant?
NAJIB: Alhamdulillah (All praise be to Allah), UMNO is probably the only political party that has remained in power continuously. Possibly because of its moderate policies. Besides, we give priority to the people’s welfare and wellbeing…and we have proved our capabilities to bring development and changes, or making national transformation as we call it.
And each time we face a crisis, internal or external, UMNO has proved its credibility to overcome it and put the party and the country back on track, and come out even stronger than before.
QUESTION: Some quarters have been criticising UMNO as they felt that UMNO is no longer open, and some even criticised UMNO leadership for allegedly refused to take advice. In fact, even some former UMNO leaders had been criticising the current leadership to the extent of calling for foreign intervention. How do you deal with such pressures?
NAJIB: Firstly, it is a fact that today’s UMNO is more open and democratic than before. When I took over the helm of UMNO leadership, one of the many initial steps that I took was to amend the party constitution, to be more open, inclusive and democratic.
This is evidence in the election of party president and other top posts in the party. Prior to this, party president was elected based on the quota system and whoever wishes to run for UMNO presidency would have to be nominated by 63 divisions.
Imagine the situation under the original constitution. Surely no one will be able to challenge UMNO president. So, if I want to stay in power forever or as long as I like, I would have used the old constitution…because under the old constitution, no one could possibly challenge the president.
But instead, I amended the constitution to enable the party president to be elected by 160,000 delegates at the grass root level, not by merely 2,600 selected delegates who came to PWTC in Kuala Lumpur to cast their votes.
This shows that my aspiration as a leader is to change the philosophy and methods of election in UMNO so that UMNO will be seen as more open, more democratic. That is what I have been practicing and I am the first UMNO president elected according to the most open and most democratic system in the history of UMNO. So, if anyone says that I’m undemocratic, the fact and the truth will say the opposite.
Secondly, I always emphasised that we must protect the interests of the party. Not that we do not allow criticism, but in the party, we must have channels and disciplines. If the party (members) not well disciplined, and have no respect for the practices that do not affect the interests of the party, then the party will face a situation that can jeopardise its stability.
So that’s why I say that if anyone has a different opinion, bring it up in a meeting, through the right channel, we can discuss it and reach a decision based on the spirit of consensus, consensus within the party. That’s the way we make decision in the party. Not just a one man’s call. Even if he is a former party leader, he cannot make a policy or decision for the party. The party must make a decision based on its constitution.
QUESTION: Racial politics has become a hot topic of discussion in social and printed media. Some opined that Malaysia should not practice racial politics. Does UMNO agree with the opinion?
NAJIB: We are the party that adopts moderate policies and cares about all races even though our party is made up of only Malays and Bumiputera. But it is our principles to be fair based on the principles and spirit of the federal constitution. We also respect the policies of Barisan Nasional (BN), in which UMNO is the pillar. So, we do not stray away from the practices and policies brought by UMNO leaders ever since its establishment.