KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — Umno members should not live in denial and expect the people to support it just because of its past achievements, party vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
In an interview with Malay Mail, the deputy prime minister said winning back and convincing its own members must be the priority of the party and only then can the party win the people.
He talked about his close relationship with party president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who has been “his boss” since 1987.
Ahmad Zahid also talked about the latest relationship between Umno and PAS which he described as an understanding on Islamic principles and was not a political alliance.
The following are the questions and answers of the 45-minute interview:
Question: Congratulations. It has been 18 months since you have been the deputy prime minister. How has it been?
Answer: Thank you. Most important is not the duration but the effectiveness.
Q: Has it been how you think it would be? Or thought it was going to be more difficult or more easy?
A: I think I am just carrying on the continuity from the previous person who is helping the top leadership in carrying out responsibility within the party and government.
Q: What has been the toughest decision since you came into office?
A: I don’t feel the burden as we believe it is a collective responsibility in translating decisions made by the party and the government.
Q: How is your relationship with the PM?
A: Our relationship goes back to Oct 1, 1987 when I was appointed his political secretary when he was minister of youth and sports. He appointed me as the Umno youth chief when he took over the leadership of the Umno youth movement in 1988.
Q: Is the relationship still the same today?
A: Yes, the chemistry is already there and it is much easier for me as the chemistry blends well to suit his thinking, his attitude and how to carry the responsibility or burden to take the party and government to a new landscape and address issues thrown at us.
Q: How worried are you about Umno?
A: I have always stressed about the Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) DNA. We need to strengthen the Umno and BN DNA first, then the other organisations and groups outside Umno and BN supporters must be addressed. We need to take good care of Umno and the component parties first.
Q: What do you mean by take good care?
A: They have to understand the issues, crystallisation of issues and actions as well as strengthen our unity within our large family in BN.
Q: Do you think Umno has been hurt badly in the last year, with the sacking of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and resignation of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad?
A: Umno was hurt very badly in 1987 when Umno was divided into two and later deregistered the year later. Once again it happened in 1998 when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the party and the government.
And now we are facing a similar problem but on a smaller scale. I think the influence of Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) then and later, Anwar, was much bigger compared to the current challenges from the outside.
Q: What does Umno need to do to neutralise Muhyiddin, Mahathir and Mukhriz?
A: Firstly, we should not be having denial syndrome. We should not be only doing fire-fighting.
We have to change the method of communicating with our audience because conventional methods to communicate are no longer viable, the audience is totally different today.
More than 87 per cent of our audience are using the Internet for their source of information.
Q: What do you mean by being in denial?
A: Always basing on track record that we are better than the rest, that is being nostalgic and it is not applicable anymore. The approach now should be futuristic.
Don’t only sell Umno’s past history but what you can do in the future. The political recipe has now changed.
We have first time voters, Gen-X who are being influenced to move away and Gen-Y who have a total different school of thought.
Q: With the 14th general election coming soon, is Umno ready?
A: Readiness is very subjective, but I think we need to be more alert. We have to work triple-hard than previous elections because the mother of all battles will be in this coming elections.
Q: In the future, if Umno or BN is defeated in the polls, can they survive the defeat?
A: We are praying we will still be in power.
Q: How is your relationship with the three Umno wings (Wanita, Pemuda and Puteri)?
A: We have a good relationship, we are close. They have been collaborating and cooperating with me well. They are also members of the management committee which I am chairing.
Q: You are also BN deputy chairman, why are the component parties — MCA, MIC and Gerakan — in the peninsula weak and they can’t seem to command respect? What are you doing to help them?
A: They will be there in their effort to reach out to their target groups. Especially now that they have a better leadership. Not comparing anyone but they are young and energetic. They are getting back the support of members and slowly their community.