On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A sizzler of an assembly on the cards

As in all party elections, if there are candidates who offer bribes, there will also be those who accept bribes – in this case, it will be the delegates who had voted in party elections.

For Pak Lah, his concern would not just be Umno leaders who go around with bags of money when campaigning but delegates who speak with a straight face of their disdain for money politics, but quietly pocket the money.

Delegates from the various states are expected to speak up on the issue but are unlikely to point fingers at anyone. Neither are they expected to speak specifically on the six-year suspension of vice-president Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad.

The sentiment is that Pak Lah has cracked the whip hard and loud. The prevailing mood is that the leadership is serious about dealing with money politics and that it is best that no one takes it lightly.

There are also pockets of unhappiness among some delegates, questioning why should only one or two Umno leaders be singled out and punished when there were many other errant ones.

There could also be criticism of the disciplinary board and the code of ethics with some state representatives, possibly, proposing clearer guidelines and even changes to the rules.

The meritocracy issue relating to the entrance of bumiputra students into tertiary institutions is almost certain to be a major issue with Johor Umno expected to propose changes to the principle.

The sentiment of the administration, however, is that the meritocracy principle must stay to nurture competition. But it is prepared to review certain parts of it to protect the interest of the community.

There has been uneasiness among some Umno leaders, with one describing meritocracy as a form of discrimination. But it is understood that the administration sees the merits of keeping that principle.

One subject close to the hearts of many grassroots Umno members must be the cut in government jobs for contractors, particularly those handling minor works projects of less than RM200,000 per contract.

These contractors have been criticised for being too dependent on the government and told to re-evaluate themselves. But  their political clout should not be underestimated. Their grievances have been heard and many expect the leadership to offer them some explanations, if not some hope, at the party assembly.

The country's economy, especially concerns of inflationary trends, is certain to be a major issue at the assembly. Rising oil prices and the rising cost of living are expected to be brought up by the delegates.

Uppermost in the minds of many Umno delegates and observers would be how International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz would handle issues like the national car policy and approved permits.

Regarded as hot topics, most analysts expect these issues to be highlighted, even as early as Wednesday, when the youth wing holds its meeting at the Putra World Trade Centre.

It would not be a surprise if the issue of APs continues at the general assembly proper but the robust politicians are expected to take on these issues, even criticisms, head on.

Malaysians can be sure that this week's Umno assembly will be as lively and open as expected. Although this is not an election year for Umno, it will still be an exciting event.