KUALA LUMPUR,. As the party in power for the last six decades, Umno’s annual general assembly has never failed to draw large crowds.
But that enthusiasm seems to have waned, judging by the attendance at the 2018 congress this weekend.
The size of attendees gathered for this year’s assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre here was considerably smaller, as Umno convened for the first time as an Opposition party following its shock defeat at the May 9 elections.
Past gatherings were typically packed with bystanders, particularly with elderly members of the party’s Wanita wing who would crowd and occupy PWTC’s main hallway, where a large screen broadcasting the meeting is placed.
At their peak, the large attendance had caused massive human traffic congestion, jamming the hallways with endless lines of people walking in and out of the building throughout the day.
Malay Mail’s observation found the a thin crowd of female party members sitting at a designated viewing space at the main hallway.
Supporters gathered outside the Merdeka Hall where the primary meeting is taking place were also lesser compared to previous assemblies.
Those present appeared less enthusiastic, with some paying little attention to the ongoing policy speech debate even as they were blasted loudly on the speakers.
An attendee, 65 year-old Suriaty from Perak, told Malay Mail the waning enthusiasm of the crowd was noticeable.
“I think most of them didn’t even pay attention to the debates. Look at the hallway, there are still space if you want to sit,” she said.
“That was never the case before.”
Another attendee, 60 year-old Halimah from Hulu Selangor, said it was possible that members are fatigued and demoralised when asked to explain the decrease in attendance.
“We lost even if delegates are trying to tell us to unite, the members are tired,” she said.
“I still believe in the party but they seemed to be repeating the same things in their debates.”
Inside the Merdeka Hall, delegates debating Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s policy speech repeated calls for unity and undivided loyalty as an out-of-power Umno sails through the political storm.
Some channeled anger towards party leaders that defected and quit, vilifying them traitors who betrayed the party cause while praising their own efforts at championing Malay interest.
Others continued with chastising the newly-elected Pakatan Harapan government, which has become an assembly tradition.
Delegates have accused PH leaders of defamatory politics, claiming it thrived on lies and cheated its way to victory.
Just outside the hall, many grassroot members appeared unmoved by what they have heard so far.
“I was hoping to hear more self-criticism but I didn’t hear much of that,” Suriaty said.
The 65-year-old left halfway through the AGM at noon.
Zahid unveiled plans for a “rebranded” Barisan Nasional in his policy speech delivered last night, consisting of the five remaining political parties through several initiatives that include allowing direct membership into BN.
Umno is also set to intensify its attack against the newly elected government, Zahid stressed, despite just declaring earlier this week that Umno is open to co-operating with any willing PH component parties.