COMMENT The Umno general assembly has often come across as reality comedy. Its ‘performers’ unwittingly amuse us with their unintentionally comic turns. This year, they didn’t disappoint.

Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, whose family is embroiled in the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal that forced her not to renew her senatorship, says that for the upcoming general election, she is a winnable candidate. God help her.

Indeed, God was invoked on several occasions throughout the general assembly, sometimes for the sake of seeking his help.

President Najib Abdul Razak urged Umno members to pray hard to God in order to win the general election. “Let us pray so that with His blessings, we will continue to be the country’s ruling party,” he said.

The subtext of that smacked of a loss in confidence.

In fact, Najib’s rhetoric in the past several months has been reflective of that. He has been practically begging his audiences to “give us another term”, an appeal no Umno leader has ever stooped to. They had always taken it for granted that they would rule long-term.

He has been persuading voters not to change the government, as if he were expecting them to. He has been bashing the opposition parties at every available opportunity, to influence voters not to vote for them.

At the general assembly, he even entertained the prospect of losing: “We can replace treasures or honour that are lost, but if we lose this fight, we will be left with nothing.”

He was of course exaggerating - because not winning Putrajaya doesn’t amount to losing everything - but he was nonetheless acknowledging the possibility of defeat.

No other Umno president before him has ever had to countenance that.

Apology too little too late?

Now Najib cannot bank on the confidence of the Umno of the past to carry him cockily to the general election; it has been too deeply mired in corruption and cronyism, and the rakyat have got wise to it.

He even apologised at the general assembly for all the wrongdoings of Umno and the other parties in the BN coalition. But, as they say, it may be a case of ‘too little, too late’. And it certainly is of no use if the corrupt practices are still continuing.

Why, for instance, he has not answered the allegations of businessman Deepak Jaikishan that for his help in facilitating a project deal, his family was paid by the latter, and that Deepak got involved in the case involving the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu because he wanted to help Najib’s family? Why did Najib leave it to Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to volunteer to reply to Deepak?

This exposé, the NFC scandal and the question surrounding the RM40 million 'political donation' received by Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman have caused untold damage to Umno. It may not fully recover from the blows.

Even so, there was much bravado flaunted at the general assembly. There was talk among Umno leaders of winning the general election with a two-thirds majority and recapturing all the four states now in Pakatan Rakyat’s hands. They might have prayed to God first before they offered these predictions.

Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob even told the media, “I tell you, DAP cannot win in Bentong. Cannot win! If DAP wins in Bentong, you cut off my ears and I’ll jump into the Pahang river.”

Such haughtiness! Well, just to see if he will keep his word, the electorate should vote BN out of Bentong. Earless Adnan might be a more humble person after that!

Hey, but the next day, probably feeling scared that his Bentong prediction might actually prove wrong, he did a flip-flop. That, however, made him even more laughable. He said he didn’t mean “cut off my ears” literally. He said he was using figurative language.

“Do you know figurative speech? In English language, we have figurative speech. We have simile, we have metaphor, hyberbole,” he said. “So when I say cut off my ears, that means they (DAP) can never win ... not that if we (BN) lose, they (the opposition) will take a knife and cut off my ears literally.”

And why did he use “figurative language”? His reply: “… to let people learn English”!

Ha ha ha! That got me rolling on the floor - because “cut off my ears” is not at all a figure of speech in the English language. And it definitely wouldn’t mean someone can’t win. Adnan doesn’t know that and he wants others to learn English? What a clown, the epitome of the know-nothing who behaves like a know-all. Or a case of someone who’s caught and simply tembak (shoots).

And since there’s no such figure of speech, dear voters, please continue sharpening your knives.

Divine intervention badly needed

Meanwhile, enjoy the most hilarious, most misplaced joke that came out of the assembly – courtesy of Umno Youth information chief Reezal Merican Naina Merican, who said Umno is the party chosen by God to liberate the chosen land of Malaysia.

Woweee! This is fresh, this is creative! This is … divine!

He even said God’s chosen people are the Malays living in Malaysia.

But hang on, doesn’t 'God’s chosen people' traditionally refer to the Israelites? And the chosen land to the nation of Israel? Jews, baby.

Did Reezal make a boo-boo in associating with the enemy? Was he even aware of it?

He said God is the true authority over all governments, the giver of power to those that he has chosen, so he must believe that Umno-BN will win the next general election. But what if it doesn’t? Will he stop believing in God?

What kooky thinking. Here’s something Adnan could learn from in terms of the English language - an example of a hyperbole.

Reezal was probably trying to outdo his Umno Youth boss, Khairy Jamaluddin, by waxing so hyperbolic. The day before, Khairy quoted from Winston Churchill’s famous speeches in his call to fight Pakatan Rakyat, but he obviously went overboard.

He was comparing the next general election to World War Two. But come on lah, brudder, they’re not the same lah.

While Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets” and “we will continue hand in hand like comrades and brothers until every vestige of the Nazi regime has been beaten into the ground” are inspiring, Khairy’s “we will debate them in Parliament, we will smash their arguments in coffeeshops, we will expose their lies in cyberspace … we will lay this wretched Pakatan coalition into the ground!” sounds terribly frivolous. Schoolboyish even.

Level of intellect worrying

The scary thing about all this comedy is that among the people spewing this rubbish are holders of high public office, and that some of the Umno Youth upstarts may one day become ministers.

Even outside of the general assembly, you get the Malacca Chief Minister Ali Rustam, accusing Singapore of interfering in Malaysian politics simply because the briefing by French lawyers on the Scorpene investigations in France was recently held there.

Worse, last week Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad disparaged the name of French lawyer William Bourdon by changing the surname to 'Bodoh' (stupid). The jury may have no difficulty in deciding who was being ‘bodoh’ in this case, but it showed the level of class and intellectuality among our so-called leaders.

It is the level of intellectuality that comes from decades of playing to the gallery, of pandering to the masses who have been deliberately manipulated to remain politically immature and intellectually challenged through being provided substandard education. And so to reach out to these masses, our so-called leaders appeal to the lowest common denominator.

They are the avatars of “the devil we know” - the phrase Mahathir Mohamad recently coined to describe Umno-BN - and they often exhibit the worst characteristics of politicians. The crucial question is: do we want these types to continue leading the country? Do we want them to be the chosen ones, i.e. chosen by us? At the coming general election, do we vote them in - again?

All I can say is, God help us if we do.

KEE THUAN CHYE is the author of the new book ‘No More Bullshit, Please, We're All Malaysians'.