The Straits Times
Published on Dec 03, 2012

Malaysia PM uses Romney defeat to warn divided party


KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - When Malaysia's ruling party gathered for a tub-thumping pre-election rally last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak delivered a stern behind-the-scenes warning: don't repeat the mistake of Mitt Romney.

Just as the United States (US) Republican presidential candidate's over-reliance on older, white voters lost him last month's election, so could the dependence of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) on rural, ethnic Malay voters, Najib told delegates at the assembly, according to a senior party insider.

It was Mr Najib's latest effort to nudge his reluctant party towards embracing the country's growing middle class and youth, who are increasingly turned off by the race-based politics that have dominated Umno's half-century rule. Mr Najib has until April to call the election, which is expected to be the closest in the former British colony's history.

Conservative, Malay supremacist voices were muted at the Umno general assembly in Kuala Lumpur, which ended on Saturday, as the party put on a show of unity four years after the ruling coalition it leads suffered its worst setback at the polls.