On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

All ears on the assembly Malaysians hope to hear more than just race issue

While the Malay Agenda will top the discussions, non-Malays will also be following the event closely. 

As a communal-based party, it is understandable that Umno would debate issues affecting the Malays.  

Defending the rights of the community is the crux of the party's philosophy and there is absolutely no reason for Umno to be apologetic over this. 

The fact is that Umno calls the shots in this country and that is a political reality that Malaysians must live with, whether they like it or not.  

No other party, whether in the Government or Opposition, can come close to Umno's strength. 

Speakers at the 57th general assembly can be expected to talk about protecting the rights of the Malays on economics, race, religion and language, which will receive both national and international attention. 

There are bound to be some muscle-flexing among the speakers, to project themselves as defenders of the community.  

Even at the annual meetings of the MCA and MIC, there have been such familiar tones. 

But Umno leaders must also realise that they are also Malaysian leaders.  

Malaysians look upon them to steer the country's course in their capacities as Cabinet ministers and mentris besar. 

While their executive positions are dependent on their performances at party levels, they must never forget that they have been elected as members of Parliament and state assemblymen with the support of the other races. 

It is commendable that Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has advised delegates to be sensitive to the feelings of non-Malays in Malaysia's multiracial society. 

Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein also asked younger leaders of the Youth wings of BN component parties to build trust among themselves and work towards a joint destiny. 

He said there were those who had been tempted to look at issues purely based on their racial group to gain temporary popularity with their own race, adding that in the long run that would not be beneficial to the party nor the individual. 

The Education Minister said that approach had been proven in history to be not acceptable by the majority of Malaysians. He said one of the issues Umno Youth would be discussing at the assembly would be its relationship with the Youth wings of the BN component parties. 

The assurances of these two senior Umno leaders are important in the run-up to the Umno general assembly, particularly when race relations in Malaysia had been tested in recent months. 

From the question of bumiputra equity to Bangsa Malaysia and the alleged baptism of Muslims, the issues have caused uneasiness among many Malaysians, and invoked sharp responses from some people who do not grasp the meaning of moderation and compromise. 

Knee-jerk reactions often lead to emotional responses which we often regret later.  

One example is the SMS rumours of the alleged baptism of a group of Muslims in a Perak church which were false, but thankfully fair-minded leaders like Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy put their foot down on such irresponsibility. 

Moderate leaders like Abdullah and other Umno leaders reassured Malaysians, especially non-Malays, that they have a place in a plural society and that fanaticism will not be tolerated here. 

That aside, Umno speakers especially the younger ones, and with the general election expected in 2008, must bear in mind that even as they speak up for their community, they must not forget their fellow Malaysians who are not Malays. 

Over the next few days, as Malaysians shift their attention to the Putra World Trade Centre, they must include other important issues confronting the nation in an increasingly competitive world. 

In a flattening world where trade barriers and old rules have been dismantled, Malaysians would want to hear how Umno intends to put up new models in a new economy so that Malaysia can climb up in the ranks of the global economy report.  

It is essential that bumiputras, who form the majority of this country's population, play a pivotal role in what Najib has dubbed the globalised bumiputras. 

The competitors of the bumiputras are not their fellow Malaysians, regardless of their races, but the educated and skilled workforce in Bangalore, India, and in China's Beijing, Shenzhen, Dalian and Shanghai, not to forget the fast growing economies of Vietnam and Indonesia. 

Malaysians trust that Umno leaders would not just talk about how the size of the economic cake should be cut but more importantly focus their mind on how to expand the cake.