On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A voice of reason, moderation

More importantly, it was the voice of reason and moderation that Malaysians are familiar with.  

“We have been independent for 50 years. Those who are born in Malaysia are Malaysian citizens. They were born and have grown up knowing only Malaysia as their homeland,” he said. 

“The time for championing parochial interest is over. Issues must be addressed on the basis of the interest of the nation and the Malaysian people as a whole.”  

Opportunities in Malaysia, he pointed out, were available to all and stressed that there was a future for every Malaysian in this country.  

“Let us all build a nation that enriches every citizen, regardless of race or belief.” he said. 

The Umno president had a reminder: the harmony between the various communities and religions in this country was not a luxury option but a necessity.  

He took pains to remind his listeners, which he was well aware included the rest of the nation, that the views of one or two Umno delegates did not represent the views of the party.  

“In the spirit of building a unified nation, the consensus of moderation and mutual respect outweighs extremist tendencies,” he said. 

He devoted a large part of his speech to power-sharing, religious moderation and racial harmony.  

His speech started with a pledge to power-sharing, saying it has worked successfully for the nation for the past 52 years.  

“This achievement is testament to the party’s wise leadership and its committed wise leadership. It is the result of the cooperation we have with the non-Malay communities on the basis of power sharing and mutual understanding,” he said. 

For non-Muslims, he assured them that Umno would not endorse a narrow interpretation of Islam.  

He said overzealous enforcement would give Islam a negative image, adding that failure to understand the needs of adherents of other religions and denying them the rights would be against the spirit of the Federal Constitution.  

Realising the concerns of many, especially among the urban voters over their rights as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, he told his party delegates that calls to return to the spirit of the Federal Constitution should be viewed positively.  

Realising that there was still the simmering effect of the keris incident from last year’s assembly, Pak Lah took on the issue directly.  

The act was part of Malay culture but it had been misunderstood and the party’s image had been tarnished overseas, he said.  

“On behalf of Umno’s leaders and members, I give assurance that Umno will never breach the spirit of the understanding that has been agreed with the other communities at the time of Merdeka,” he said. 

But he also reminded Malaysians of the deal made among the various races. The social contract, agreed by the founding fathers, was a sacred issue.  

“By the same token, other communities must appreciate the sensitivities of the Malays. Basic matters relating to the sanctity of religion, beliefs and practices, Malay interests and the social contract between the communities are sacred to us and should not be raised,” he said.  

“Similarly, the basic issues that were agreed upon at the time the Federal Constitution was drafted are non-negotiable.”  

His opportunities-for-all message continued with reassurances that economic development would not just be focused on urban areas but also in the east coast states, Sabah and Sarawak.  

In an apparent reference to PAS-run Kelantan, he said: “We put aside politics to improve the quality of life of the people and to lift them out of poverty. 

“The philosophy behind the development corridors is that no one should be left behind. Economic sectors and geographical regions that are currently lagging behind will be developed quickly.  

“Additional income and new sources of income will be generated and new sources of wealth will be harvested. When our plans succeed, it will transform the face of Malaysia.  

“Development will not just be concentrated to major urban centres, but will instead be spread to every area of our nation. This is our noble ambition.”  

The only thing missing from his speech were hints of the next general election – not a single line. But at the Putra World Trade Centre, it was the biggest talk among the delegates and many want it soon.