Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on his party to stay united ahead of a potential election within months, urging members to avoid complacency even as the opposition descends further into disarray.
Surrounded by key lieutenants on stage at a 71st anniversary celebration of his United Malays National Organisation, the premier attacked detractors including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, saying they will fail in their attempts to topple UMNO.
“Unlike the opposition, we are one family and we strive for the same vision,” Najib told tens of thousands of supporters at a stadium near the capital Kuala Lumpur. “We will defend the party even if we have to shed blood doing so.”
Najib is striving to put behind him a political funding scandal that tainted much of his second term as premier. The Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO is seeking to extend 60 years of uninterrupted rule in elections that must be held by mid-2018. He’s being helped by a group of opposition parties that are squabbling among themselves and have competed against each other in smaller polls.
The main Islamic opposition party known as PAS had already shown interest in backing Najib on some policies. On Thursday, Najib received a further boost after PAS said it will sever ties with its opposition ally the People’s Justice Party. That increases the odds of multi-cornered fights at the next polls, a move that would benefit UMNO politicians.
“UMNO is at the moment not at the strongest position” because of the funding scandals and some internal conflicts over the past two years, said Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, an associate professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia.
“However, the opposition is also weak due to infighting,” he said. “To make things worse, PAS has also severed its ties with other opposition parties, thus weakening even further the fragile opposition pact.”
The opposition has failed to capitalize on gains made in 2013, when it won the popular vote for the first time. Najib was returned to office despite Barisan Nasional putting in its worst performance yet, helped by his power base of ethnic Malays.
Najib and his wife entered the Bukit Jalil arena to cheers from a flag-waving crowd. Throughout the day, roads to the stadium were choked with buses ferrying grassroots leaders and supporters from around the country.
UMNO has for decades propagated policies that provide favorable access to education, jobs and housing for Malays and indigenous people, known collectively as Bumiputeras, who make up the majority of the population.
The opposition has sought to lure Malays discontented at living costs and disillusioned over allegations of graft surrounding Najib. Inflation was at an eight-year high in March, while consumer sentiment has been below the level of optimism since mid-2014.
Najib needs votes in rural and semi-urban…