KUALA LUMPUR - Leaders aligned to Umno president Zahid Hamidi came out on top in the polls for its wing leadership roles on Saturday, underlining the hold that he has on the party months after purging his critics from Malaysia’s longest ruling party.
Saturday’s polls saw comfortable wins for Melaka state executive councillor Akmal Saleh as the new Umno Youth chief, and Puteri Umno’s outgoing vice-chief Nurul Aman Mohd Fauzi as the new Puteri chief.
Incumbent Women’s wing leader Noraini Ahmad retained her position, despite a stiff challenge from her predecessor Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Saturday’s results are bound to give confidence to Zahid ahead of the party’s top leadership elections, which will take place on March 18.
While the president and his deputy Mohamad Hasan have retained their positions uncontested due to a controversial no-contest motion pushed by pro-Zahid party delegates during Umno’s January assembly, Zahid is still expected to back strong allies among the three vice-president and supreme council positions.
A resounding victory for the Zahid camp this week will likely secure his position for the foreseeable future, and also further guarantee Umno’s backing for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Zahid was the chief orchestrator in pushing Umno to back Datuk Seri Anwar in the latter’s bid to become prime minister following 2022’s general election that resulted in a hung Parliament.
Zahid, who became Anwar’s deputy, in January sacked and suspended a swathe of key Umno leaders who are seen as critical of his leadership – including former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin and former defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
The purge came just days after the party’s general assembly controversially passed a motion to block contests for the post of president and deputy president.
The Registrar of Societies (ROS) ruled the motion invalid, but Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution – from Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat – overruled the ROS letter and gave Umno an exemption to allow it to execute the no-contest motion.
There were mixed fortunes for the two children of imprisoned former premier Najib Razak, who contested junior positions during the Umno elections.
Najib’s daughter Nooryana Najwa secured the most votes to make the cut as exco member for the party’s Puteri (Young Women) wing on Saturday.
But his son Nazifuddin Najib failed in his bid to become Umno Youth vice-chief, coming in third in a four-cornered fight.
Umno currently has only 26 seats in Parliament, its lowest in history, but remains a major kingmaker in Malaysian politics as its support enabled Mr Anwar – a long-time nemesis – to secure a majority and become prime minister.
The move to back Mr Anwar initially divided the party in 2022, creating uncertainties as to whether his government would last if Zahid is not retained as president or loses control of the party during the Umno elections.