Monday, December 05, 2011

Najib's Closing Speech at UMNO General Assembly: Between Paranoia and Hope

Najib's Closing Speech at UMNO General Assembly: Between Paranoia and Hope

by Terence

COMMENT The contrast between the two winding-up speeches could not have been starker. Disdaining malice or frivolity, PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim’s wrap-up remarks to the party’s annual congress in Johor Baru last week was a neat demonstration of the orator’s art .

By contrast, UMNO President Najib Razak’s summing-up to his party’s annual conclave yesterday had what Shakespeare said in Macbeth about some of life’s dramas: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Both winding-up speeches were supposed to shift the party’s delegates into battle mode for an imminent general election, surely a pivotal moment in the country’s search for fresh directions in the face of political and economic sclerosis.

But whereas Anwar made an effort to distill understanding from past history, attempted an analysis of present challenges, and pointed to what was required to meet them, Najib opted for unvarnished jingoism.

The contrast between the two speeches was not only in their content and style of delivery; the differences in the physical settings provided suitable, or in Najib’s case, ironic commentary to their separate thrusts.

Pulai Springs where the PKR meeting was held is a golfing eyrie carved out of an oil palm plantation, the tented area in which the congress convened nestling in a grove that overlooks lush greens.

The arcadian setting provided a tempting backdrop to a weary-looking Anwar’s postulations about the allure of incumbency in four Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states, but that he, PKR and the opposition coalition had promises to keep and an arduous mountain to climb before they could catch their breath.

The Putra World Trade Centre, where UMNO holds its annual talk fest, is a modernist architectural construct but Najib’s winding-up rhetoric suggested that, no matter the ambient uplift of plush surroundings, his stock of inspirational leadership is as wan as some European nations’ treasuries.

Speaking truth to power

We are told, without vision nations wither in the gap between a dearth of aspiration and a shortage of will and ability to deliver.

In what way was the vision presented by Anwar at the conclusion of PKR’s annual meeting last week a substantive contrast to that unveiled by Najib at the conclusion of UMNO’s conclave?

Anwar’s vision touched on religion by bringing up the day’s Maal Hijrah celebrations to which he said PKR’s non-Muslims joined in the observations of the beginning of the Muslim year and that the spectacle was reflective of the party’s push for social solidarity and cohesion.

His vision touched on race but rejected exclusivist and separatist conceptions that breed the hegemony of one race over the others. He said minorities had a right to be treated fairly by the majority.

Anwar’s vision brought up justice that he said was the thrust of famed thinkers from the state of Johor when it was under the Riau sultanate who took care to speak truth to power. His vision also touched on the absolute pre-requisite of successful governance: no hand that dips into the public chest be allowed impunity.

Anwar posited a vision of PKR and Pakatan responding to the dire challenges that faced the country with a higher and greater diffusion of the standards of frugality, fairness and integrity displayed thus far in the Pakatan-controlled states.

In other words, what Malaysians had seen in Penang, Selangor, Kelantan and to some extent in Kedah, would be what they would get in greater measure throughout the country should a PKR-led Pakatan government hold the reins of Putrajaya.

Creating fear and insecurity

In contrast to the PKR supremo’s vision of national challenge and response, Najib sought in his winding-up speech to create fear of what the opposition would bring about if they should win the next general election.

Perdition would be the result of a Pakatan victory, claimed Najib, with the Malay race, Islamic religion, and the country’s economic advancement brought, for sure, from boon to blight.

It was as if UMNO and its leader have inhabited a space totally shut off from the Pakatan-controlled realms. Or that what they see is not what Pakatan says it is. In democratic politics, every citizen is entitled to his or her opinion but not to the facts.

Fortunately, the latter is in a domain over which no governor has exclusive sovereignty, not even one that has had power-of-attorney for over half century and behaves like it has it for eternity.

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