PETALING JAYA – Umno will celebrate its 71st anniversary on Thursday with its biggest and possibly last gathering before the 14th General Election (GE14) is called.
Signalling that GE14 is on the horizon, vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the rally – which is expected to see a turnout of more than 120,000 Umno members at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium – would showcase a united Umno that is ready for the big battle after the setbacks in the last two general elections.
“Our political rivals have painted a ‘grey picture’ about our unity after the 12th and 13th general elections.
“So, now is the time for us to prove to the public, especially the Opposition, that we are united,” Dr Ahmad Zahid said in an interview with The Star to herald Umno’s upcoming anniversary.
Asked whether Thursday’s event would be Umno’s final and biggest gathering before GE14, he replied: “Indeed. The gathering will answer what so-called political analysts outside of Umno and Barisan Nasional have been saying about our unity.”
The Government’s five-year term only ends in June 2018, but many expect Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to seek the dissolution of Parliament and call for polls this year.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Barisan deputy chairman and carrying out the duties of the Umno deputy president, explained that Umno and Barisan had already made substantial preparations for the polls.
“Previously, we would organise some of our (preparatory) meetings only after Parliament was dissolved.
“This time around, we have already held our retreats and meetings,” he said.
Barisan, he added, had also ironed out a number of issues during its management meeting, which he chaired.
Certain issues which used to be tackled only after the dissolution of Parliament, such as seat allocations within or between Barisan component parties, would also be addressed earlier this time around, he said.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said Najib, who is also Umno president and Barisan chairman, had appointed an independent body to verify feedback as well as reports on ground sentiments to ensure that they were accurate.
A more rigorous mechanism to shortlist election candidates would also be used for GE14.
Candidates, said Dr Ahmad Zahid, were being evaluated based on two key qualities.
“They must be winnable and likeable. Being winnable also depends on the party’s strength because the candidate represents the party, but being likeable will cut across all lines,” he said.
Asked whether Umno would be paying extra attention to preparations in some states seen as possible key battlegrounds such as Terengganu and Kedah, Dr Ahmad Zahid said that the party’s analysis would focus on characteristics of the respective parliamentary and state seats.
“Ensuring that our chances are good at the level of individual (parliamentary) seats will eventually contribute to our chances at the state level,” he added.