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Duo backed by Najib sweep UMNO polls
Publication Date : 14-10-2013
Two incumbent leaders backed by United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak won resounding victories in party polls over the weekend, their large margins crushing talk of his losing ground to other factions.
UMNO is a Malay-representative component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Malaysia.
Still, analysts warned that it is too early to say if this will consolidate the positions of the incumbent vice-presidents, as they face a greater challenge at their elections this weekend.
"Considering that Najib did worse than (former premier) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the May elections, he must ensure his faction dominates in the party elections," said Professor Faisal Hazis of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
In official results tweeted by the Utusan Online news portal, Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, seen as a progressive leader, won 189 out of a total of 191 divisional votes, or 99 per cent.
In a new voting system at the triennial polls, some 80,000 youth leaders in the 191 divisions cast ballots which were tallied as one vote under each division.
In the vote for women's wing chief, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil defied critics who say her influence is waning by winning in 172 divisions or 90 per cent of the divisional votes. Her closest challenger, Maznah Mazlan, received eight votes. The third wing, Puteri UMNO, consisting of women under 40, elected new face Mas Ermieyati Samsudin as its chief in a straight fight.
Prime Minister Najib had indicated indirectly before the polls he wanted the incumbents to be retained. He had made Khairy the Youth and Sports Minister after the May general election.
Two months ago, he made Shahrizat his special adviser to women's affairs with the rank of minister, despite misgivings among some members as her name is tainted by a financial scandal involving her family members.
The large victories enjoyed by the three are seen as an endorsement of Najib's inclusive policies. "I want to show that you can be a progressive and you can win in UMNO... That's the message," said Khairy as quoted by the Malay Mail Online news portal.
Smaller margins by the two junior leaders backed by Najib would have indicated a weak hold on Malaysia's biggest political party with 3.4 million members and the backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
The results could also strengthen Najib's faction for this weekend's polls where 146,000 grassroots leaders of UMNO's main body will cast their votes.
The race for the UMNO Supreme Council positions includes the six-way fight for the three vice-presidents' posts.
Incumbent Zahid Hamidi, the home minister, is expected to easily retain his position due to his "tough" image and his being seen as a champion of the Malays.
But two other incumbents - Najib's trusted cousin, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, and Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal - have a tough battle ahead.
The main challenger is Kedah state chief Mukhriz Mahathir, a son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad. Two other candidates are Ali Rustam and Isa Samad, in their 60s and chief ministers in the Mahathir era.
"It's a split between the pro-Najib side with his inclusive and reform agenda and the conservatives, which are pro-Mahathir," said Singapore-based political analyst James Chin.