KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 – A special briefing will be held with speakers at Umno’s general assembly next week as the party’s leadership attempts to tone down possible racial and religious rhetoric that could crop up. Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the briefing would be held between party deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and about a score of delegates who were expected to give speeches at the party’s 68th assembly.
Tengku Adnan, however, stressed that this was not to restrict the party’s members from speaking their minds but to ensure they did not touch on racial and religious sensitivities and refrain from making personal attacks. It is learnt that this is the first time such a briefing is being held between speakers and the party’s number two, who is also the deputy prime minister.
It hints at worries among the party’s senior leadership that this year’s assembly could be especially heated as grassroots leaders have said that they wanted to raise the issues of the Sedition Act and vernacular education – two hot-button topics among the country’s multiracial population. “This is not to limit them in any way on what they can talk about,” Tengku Adnan told a press conference at Umno headquarters today.
“We just want to ensure they do not touch on racial and religious sensitivities and not make personal attacks. They are free to speak on all other topics.” On November 11, Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Husessin said that topics which would likely dominate this year include vernacular schools, repealing the Sedition Act, regulating social media and rising cost of living.
On October 5, a Petaling Jaya Utara Umno leader called on delegates to debate on whether to abolish or preserve Malaysia’s vernacular primary school system. This caused a backlash among education groups and Umno’s own partners in Barisan Nasional – MCA, Gerakan and MIC – who claimed to represent the Chinese and Indian communities.
Other leaders and activists have also urged its president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to not repeal the Sedition Act. Najib previously pledged to replace the colonial-era law with a Harmony Act which is currently being drafted. Umno argued that the act was necessary to protect multi-ethnic relations, but critics said it had been used against critics of the government and the BN.