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Battle royale over UMNO VP posts
Publication Date : 26-09-2013
It's official: six candidates will do battle for three vice-president posts in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional component party United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party's closely watched polls next month.
Chairman of Umno's election committee Tajol Rosli Ghazali told a packed news conference on Wednesday that none of the six vice-president contestants had pulled out in the three-day cooling-off period since nominations.
The challengers are the youngest son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, Kedah state chief Mukhriz Mahathir; and two popular former state chief ministers, Isa Samad of Negeri Sembilan and Ali Rustam of Malacca.
Defending their turf are the three ministers who have said they work well together - Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal.
Polls for UMNO, Malaysia's biggest political party with 3.4 million members, are usually held every three years, but were postponed last year due to the impending general elections.
The posts of UMNO president and deputy president - held by Prime Minister Najib Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin - were unchallenged.
In Malaysia, the two top UMNO positions automatically make them prime minister and deputy prime minister. The vice-presidents are an important platform as they are the next in line.
There are other heated contests shaping up, including a three-way tussle to head the women's wing and a five-way fight for the youth wing chief's post.
There are 64 contestants for the 25 elected seats in the UMNO Supreme Council, UMNO's decision-making body that is often seen as more powerful than the Malaysian Cabinet.
The entry of Mukhriz as a contender has put the vice-president race in the spotlight amid calls by Dr Mahathir - an influential figure in the party that he led for 22 years - that UMNO will die if it refuses to accept younger people as top leaders.
"They should realise the importance of not staying on past their time. Eventually people get bored of these outdated leaders who refuse to accept the reality," he wrote in UMNO-owned Utusan newspaper two weeks ago.
Of the six contestants, 48-year-old Mukhriz is the only one below 50. The oldest, Ali, is 64.
Of the three incumbents, UMNO watchers say Zahid, 60, is the only one likely to retain his position due to his tough-guy image in handling street protesters, gangsters and illegal immigrants since becoming home minister four months ago.
The other five men will have to fight for the remaining two posts.
A win for Mukhriz is not a certainty at this point, party members and analysts say, despite his new-face advantage.
In the women's wing, Najib-backed Shahrizat has found a strong contender in Senator Maznah Mazlan, who made an unexpected run.
Maznah is expected to get support from members who feel Shahrizat should have stepped down over a financial scandal involving her family.
The third contender is a relative unknown.
In the youth wing, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should be able to win against his strongest challenger, Akhramsyah Sanusi, the son of Mahathir ally and former Kedah state chief Sanusi Junid.
There are three other challengers for the youth wing chief's post.