Malaysia’s ruling party holds crucial party election

KUALA LUMPUR, (PNA/Xinhua) — Malaysia’s leading political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), held its party elections on Saturday, which may give clues on the future leadership of the country.

The polls came after the general elections in May, when the UMNO-led ruling coalition continued its uninterrupted rule in the country since independence in 1957 but lost the popular votes for the first time.

However, UMNO managed to strengthen its dominance in the coalition with the support from the ethnic Malay majority, helping Prime Minister Najib Razak retained the party presidency uncontested together with his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin.

The focus of Saturday’s leadership elections is on the 25- member supreme council and the party vice president posts, where three incumbents, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal and Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein face three challengers led by Mukhriz Mahathir, son of Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The 49-year-old Mukhriz is bidding the top party leadership for the first time after leading UMNO to recapture the northern Kedah state from the opposition in the May elections and has since become the chief minister. His bid is backed by the 88-year-old Mahathir, who still holds considerable sway in the party after stepping down in 2003 after 22 years of premiership.

Among the three incumbent vice presidents, Hishammuddin, 52, is widely seen as the most vulnerable despite the facts that the veteran cabinet minister is the son of Malaysia’s third Prime Minister Hussein Onn and a cousin to Najib.

“If one of them (Mukhriz and Hishammuddin) were to lose out, it will set back the ambition of the respective political dynasties which they represent,” said Oh Ei Sun, a political analyst and former political secretary to Najib.

Najib has refrained from spelling out his preference. He extended the voting base for the party leadership from some 2,000 central delegates to more than 140,000 party members after assuming power in 2009.

Najib has urged victors in Saturday’s elections not to be overly excited and should “extend the hand of friendship” to the losers, the state news agency Bernama reported.