MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday called on his party members to stay loyal to Umno and stand behind him as he vowed never to "retreat" or "surrender" amid his toughest challenge as premier, trying to fend off two major funding scandals.
"Even though there are defectors, and no matter how many times there are attempts to push us to the ground, there shall be no retreat, no surrender," Mr Najib told the 2,762 delegates attending the annual assembly of the Malay nationalist party, Malaysia's most-watched yearly political event.
For about 90 minutes, he plucked stories from history, quoted from the Quran and delved into Umno's history to explain that while the issues facing the party, the country and himself are tough, they will together prevail.
His annual Umno policy speech was the seventh time he had spoken as president of the biggest political party in Malaysia, but arguably his most important one.
While he had a difficult time last year when he had to deal with two Malaysia Airlines plane crashes, the challenges he faced this time are personal.
Mr Najib has faced calls to resign for his poor handling of debt-burdened state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Additionally, a huge sum of US$680 million (S$950 million), or RM2.6 billion when rendered in the Malaysian currency, was found in his bank accounts in March 2013, with allegations that the money originated from 1MDB.
He thus needs to clearly explain to the 3.5-million-strong Umno that the two issues are not financial misappropriations tied to him or his government.
In an obvious dig at rebellious leaders in the party, Mr Najib said yesterday that Islam stresses the importance of loyalty to the leader.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Islam, at its basic, mandates that it is compulsory to be loyal to the ruling leader," Mr Najib said.
He said that he had never tried to topple anyone, and had backed Mahathir Mohamad in 1987 when the latter faced a revolt from his deputy president and a vice-president.
Mr Najib's two biggest critics are deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin, whom he sacked as deputy prime minister in July, and his mentor-turned-critic Dr Mahathir.
Mr Muhyiddin was sacked after questioning his boss on the troubles of 1MDB and on the RM2.6 billion "political donation" that Mr Najib said came from abroad.
Both Dr Mahathir and Mr Muhyiddin were in the hall during Mr Najib's speech.
The Premier repeated what he had said previously, that the money found in his accounts was a "donation from abroad and not taken from 1MDB".
On 1MDB, which at end-March 2014 had debts totalling RM42 billion, the Umno president said the problem will be resolved soon.
1MDB has already deleted some RM17 billion of these debts by selling its power-plant unit Edra Global Energy to a Chinese company, and other moves to trim the debts further are going well.
Mr Najib also raised cost-of-living issues. They are a hot topic in Malaysia after the government last April introduced the 6 per cent goods and services tax that pushed prices up.
He said it was necessary to introduce the GST to reduce the budget deficit. The government has initiated many schemes since he took over to ameliorate rising prices, he said.
These included the BR1M scheme that doles out cash to needy families, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia sundry shops that lowers the cost of basic necessities and by building more affordable housing units.
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