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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7, 2015:

All eyes will be trained on the annual 2015 Umno General Assembly, which kicks off officially today, in what is expected to be one of the most defining and contentious meetings the country’s largest party has had in years.

Over the next five days, 5,738 delegates from the party and its three wings will descend on the corridors of the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) to once again steer the course of Umno stewardship of the Malays and the national agenda.

Despite the apparent rift in the party’s upper echelons, Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor suggested that this assembly would be a normal affair as motions to be presented by party delegates would only involve the economy, education and religion.

The motions, he earlier said, had been screened to ensure that delegates would discuss nothing that was out of the ordinary.

Central to the assembly is the call among its grassroots members to show solidarity for the party leadership in a bid to consolidate the team in facing the next general election.

Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein also played down notions of a leadership challenge as prominent topics to be discussed during the debates revolved around the support for Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In typical fashion, the assembly will head into full swing when Najib delivers his presidential briefing tonight, when he is slated to convey his “amanat” (message) to set the tone for the party’s largest gathering.

Members of the party’s Supreme Council, Wanita, Youth and Puteri executive committee members, division chiefs and their deputies, among others, are expected to attend the closed-door briefing.

Meanwhile, this year, the general assembly will see the party breaking away from tradition as the party’s No. 2, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, would not be opening the wings’ assemblies, following a decision made by the Supreme Council.

Instead, the meetings would be launched by the wings’ respective heads.

In another tradition-breaker, the winding-up speech will only be made by the party president.

Muhyiddin, who was removed as Deputy Prime Minister in July, joins the ranks of other embattled leaders, such as former Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, who were among disgruntled leaders tipped to make highly-watched appearances at the assembly.

Political analyst Associate Professor Dr Azizuddin Mohd Sani, of Universiti Utara Malaysia, said the move to bar Muhyiddin from opening the wings’ meetings and speaking during the wrap-up of the assembly was unprecedented.

“This indicates that tradition has changed, especially in the context of the deputy president’s role, and this is a policy that is obviously different this year.

“But we don’t know how the delegates, especially from the grassroots level, will react to this,” he said when contacted.

He added that the predicted motions to be discussed at the assembly included the economy, especially the decline of the ringgit, apart from other hot issues such as politics, education and religion.

“It will go on as usual but the main difference is the tradition of the deputy president opening the wings’ meetings that has changed,” Azizuddin said.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, one of Najib’s harshest critics, has also confirmed his attendance.

Speculation is rife that the three critics would face disciplinary action from the party for their outspokenness in recent months, as in the case of Wanita Umno Gopeng division chief Datuk Hamidah Osman, who was sacked and had her party membership revoked.

But any such decision would have to be made after the party announces the outcome of its Supreme Council meeting, if at all, it was discussed.

With much having been said about 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the RM2.6 billion political donation in the PM’s bank account, grassroots leaders have opined that the matters needed to be explained by the Supreme Council members as part of an effort to regain the trust of the people and Umno members.

It remains to be seen if these topics would be brought up at the assembly, particularly after it had been made clear that investigations are under way.

Fissures within Umno, which are not uncommon to the party, had drawn wide public scrutiny and the attention of the media, which is deploying thousands of journalists to the ground to cover the goings-on at the assembly.

Preparations have been completed and the stage is now set for unfolding events. Until Saturday, PWTC is expected to be a hive of activity.

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