KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 – The Sedition Act 1948 dominated the delegates’ discussions at the 2014 Umno Annual General Assembly with “solidarity” being the theme for the event. The fear among Umno members were laid to rest, however, when Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on Thursday that the colonial-era law would not only be retained, but strengthened via amendments.
The decision was welcomed by Umno leaders and members, who insist the Act would protect the country’s harmony, especially from rising racial tensions due to insensitive remarks particularly on social media. However, former party president and prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi cautioned that the law should not be used as a tool to cling to power, while some Barisan Nasional component parties — who were caught off guard — opposed retaining the law.
Rejuvenating the party was another hot topic with Umno Youth asking to play a bigger role in the party. The issue stirred much debate to the point that Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said it might actually weaken Umno as it gave senior leaders the impression that the young ones were trying to oust them. Najib later said that the party would give more opportunities to young leaders to step up, on condition that they were qualified for the task.
Vernacular schools were also touched, in particular by delegates who said it should be retained while the standard of national schools must be improved. Sabah Umno delegate Tawfiq Abu Bakar Titingan called for the preservation of vernacular school as almost half of its students in the state were Bumiputera, stating that the group in one institution in Tawau made up 84% of its population.
Terengganu Umno delegate Abdul Hakim Wan Mokhtar suggested the government set up an independent commission to study how effective the current school streams were in producing patriotic students. The commission was seen as a necessity following allegations that schools of various streams lacked patriotism, which was needed to ensure the unity and harmony of the various ethnicities in Malaysia.
Religious motions also took centre stage, with Ampang delegate Datuk Ismail Kijo animatedly raising concerns over Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues. His call for stricter governance received huge support from delegates, who urged the government not to take the matter lightly.
Expressing fears that a woman would one day bring home a “husband” with bigger breast, Ismail praised the efforts by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) in helping to rehabilitate LGBTs. Debates on the economy, saw delegates highlight the importance of elevating the race’s economic status.
They pointed to the fact that compared to two other major races in the country, the Chinese and Indians, the Malays were still left far behind. Delegates cited several surveys that showed 47% of Malay graduates earned less than RM1,500 a month while only 33% of those from other races earned less than the sum.