Umno takes steps to reform after election debacle

KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ANN) - Malaysia's largest party Umno has begun efforts to reform itself after suffering a shock election defeat last Wednesday that saw its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition whittled down to 78 MPs from a majority of 133 in 2013.

"We have formed a taskforce to carry on party-related duties, and it is also entrusted to revive Umno as a force in the Malaysian political scene," acting Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters yesterday, after chairing a meeting of the party's supreme council.

Former prime minister and Umno president Najib Razak quit his posts on Saturday to take responsibility for the poor performance in the election, after Umno Youth representatives from seven states called for him to step down.

The dismal showing has also resulted in several defections from Umno and tussles to form the governments in states such as Perak and Sabah, where both Pakatan Harapan (PH) and BN claim they have the majority to rule.

Datuk Seri Zahid said Umno and BN are open to negotiations with any quarters to form any sort of government or opposition faction, but that any such negotiations would have to be done en bloc.

"The supreme council members have given me the mandate that if any negotiations were to be held on Umno and BN's behalf, they have to be done en bloc," he said. He noted, however, that there were no such negotiations as yet.

Mr Zahid also denied media reports that he met jailed leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is the prime minister-in-waiting candidate for the ruling PH coalition, on Sunday.

"At the time that the media alleged (I was meeting Anwar), I was performing a special prayer at home," Mr Zahid said.

In a separate press conference, Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin said that the focus should be on stabilising and reforming the party.

Pledging full support to Mr Zahid and acting Umno deputy president Hishammuddin Hussein in leading the party, Mr Khairy said it is high time for the coalition to work on becoming a credible opposition.

"It is a clear message from the rakyat (people) that they are always scrutinising the government. Thus, we must be a credible opposition," he said.

Mr Khairy's views were echoed by his rivals yesterday at a forum in Kuala Lumpur.

"To keep this new government in check, we need a credible opposition. If we do not have a functioning opposition, there is that risk we will become another Umno or BN," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, deputy director of strategy and policy at Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, a member party of PH.

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