KUALA LUMPUR - Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has delivered his policy speech at the opening of the party's annual general assembly.
In light of recent criticisms and questions about his leadership, some of the loudest coming from within his own party, Najib, also the Prime Minister, rebutted allegations regarding 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the RM2.6 billion (S$858 million) political donation in his accounts.
Sitting in the audience were some of Najib's fiercest critics, including his party deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He set the tone for this year's assembly during the closed-door briefing on Monday, where he offered a frank explanation of the issues plaguing his leadership.
Earlier, the Umno president arrived for the opening of the assembly at 8.45am Thursday, followed by the flag-raising ceremony.
The three-day assembly that runs until Saturday will see debates on three motions, which are the president's policy speech, the economy, and religion and education.
Najib's speech highlights
Najib starts his speech, welcomes delegates from all over Malaysia, giving special mentions to the Umno wings - Wanita, Youth and Puteri. "This assembly is different from previous ones, and the expectation from the gathering this time is extraordinary.
"Being realistic, I know that from the 191 divisions in Umno, not all share the same views. Especially after several recent episodes, there are those who attend this assembly with heavy issues weighing on their chests."
He said the majority still supported him, as evidenced by events over last few days.
Najib said it was not easy for him to speak as each time he does, people "ask if he is speaking as Umno president or as Prime Minister".
"On the Umno assembly stage, only then it is right for us to defend the welfare and interest of the Malays and bumiputras.
"Even if the challenges are high as a mountain, however, great the opposition, I will never give up," Najib said to loud cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
"I am a gentleman, any disputes, let's meet and discuss. We resolve it through the proper channels.
"If one day the baton of leadership is passed on to someone else, I can't just abandon our cause and drop our mission without first pledging that not only all outstanding issues are resolved, but the state of the party is returned to its original position.
"The sale of assets of 1MDB's power unit Edra Global Energy has reduced the company's debt by RM17bil. This is evidence of positives in the ongoing rationalisation plan," he said.
On the RM2.6 billion donation, Najib reiterates that it's foreign money and not taken from 1MDB or public funds.
"I am on the right path, and the truth will prevail," he said.
Najib reminds the party of the principles of loyalty to the leadership. He said it was practised from the days of the Prophet, who was surrounded by loyal friends.
Najib said he had never betrayed or tried to topple any previous prime minister.
The Umno president takes a dig at Muhyiddin and party vice-president Shafie Apdal, referring to provisions in the party's constitution which stipulates that the deputy president and vice-president are tasked with "assisting the president's duties".
Najib said Malaysia jumped two spots to 18 in the world economic forum report on global competitiveness.
"So how can someone say that we are a fail state or as beggars under my leadership?" he said in another reference to Dr Mahathir's allegations against him.
Najib spoke about the benefits of GST, saying that without it, the Government would be hard pressed to pay the salaries of civil servants.
On the decline in ringgit - Najib said it was due to external factors, such as drop in crude oil prices, the rate of increase in China's and US' economy. He said other countries around the world were also affected.
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), Najib said it was a comprehensive trade pact, adding that the Government was not apologetic in defending the bumiputras' agenda in its negotiations.
Najib: "In March next year, it will be 40 years of my involvement in this party, without ever once leaving it."
Najib quotes religious scholars, saying that it is forbidden to topple a democratic Government. "Unfortunately, there are some quarters who have 'poked a hole' in this struggling ship, so they could drown his enemies.
"But they forgot by doing so, not only will this drown the enemies, their betrayal could also drown the whole civilisation."
"I was forced to face with dilemmas where I had to make some tough choices but this all had to be done in the interest of the party after consulting with the Umno supreme council.
"And there are times, in the spirit of friendship, I would never make a decision with the intention to hurt.
"As the saying goes, if you wish to please everybody, you will end up pleasing no one.
"So in the name of survival and the party interest, the decisions had to be made.
"I am referring to the Cabinet reshuffle, which needed to be done in order to strengthen the Cabinet line-up in the spirit of loyalty and camaraderie, as a strong team based on the concept of collective responsibility.
"I have announced administrative powers and empowerment involving Federal agencies which will be handed over to the Sabah and Sarawak governments.
"We are defending Sabah from the terrorists but there are certain individuals who had the audacity to meet with those who were associated with those responsible for the Lahad Datu intrusion," Najib said referring to PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar, to the chorus of boos from the delegates.
Najib took a swipe at the Opposition's claim that they were the alternative to Barisan Nasional, saying that DAP was now trying to control its Opposition partners. "Sarawak DAP was arrogant in cutting ties with PAS and PKR because it wished to contest more seats in the upcoming state polls."
He said the two-party system would not work and could not be accepted as it would go against the Umno struggle and its duty to uphold the religion. "Let me ask you, do you know the danger of this unwise proposal?"
Najib said Umno was relieved that PAS was no longer part of the Opposition, urging the party to extend a hand of friendship to them (Greeted by applause from delegates).
Wrapping up his policy speech, Najib said he was "big hearted" despite being hurt deeply by the actions of some.
"Even though my heart has been hurt very deeply, but as president, I take lessons from our religion, I choose to be big hearted.
"No retreat no surrender," said Najib.
Additional reporting by D. Kanyakumari.