KUALA LUMPUR - Acting Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was handed a resounding mandate to continue leading Malaysia’s largest party, with members sticking to the status quo at the party's internal polls on Saturday (June 30), despite calls to reform the party after its shock general election defeat in May.
In the three-way battle for post of president, Datuk Seri Zahid was backed by 93 of Umno’s 191 divisions as at 9.40pm, far ahead of his nearest rival and outgoing youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin who had 51 votes and veteran leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who trailed with only 23 votes.
“Officially, Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is the seventh Umno president. We wish him all the best in executing his duties,” the official Twitter for the party polls posted after the former party vice-president obtained an unassailable lead on Saturday night.
Mr Khairy conceded defeat on Saturday, tweeting: “I accept the decision with an open heart. Insya Allah (God wiling) Umno’s new line-up will be able to restore the people’s confidence towards our party. Make total changes. Prove that Umno can change for the better.”
About 150,000 delegates voted nationwide in an electoral college system, where each of the 191 divisions - based on Malaysia’s parliamentary constituencies - pick one candidate for presidency.
The former deputy premier is the party's most senior leader after being promoted in 2015 by then Prime Minister Najib Razak. Datuk Seri Najib resigned as Umno president following the shock May 9 general election which ended Umno's six-decade grip on power.
Mr Zahid had campaigned in the party polls on a promise to offer Malaysians “a new deal” while insisting that continuity was important for the grand old party to bounce back at the next general election.
He has stridently insisted that Umno must remain a Malay-only party, and opposed watering down pro-Malay policies.
Meanwhile his closest rival and former Youth and Sports Minister Khairy had taken a more liberal tack, saying that Umno must be open to all suggestions as it was now fighting for survival.
Analysts say Mr Zahid’s assertions during the two-week campaign that he can return Umno to power even before the next general election convinced delegates to give him a chance.
“Zahid’s campaign message that he will bring Umno into federal government before the next general election may have tipped the balance his way. After all, the next Umno polls is due before then. If he is not successful, then they can pick a new war-time general,” Vriens & Partners’ political analyst Adib Zalkapli told The Straits Times.
The Bagan Datuk MP addressed delegates in the past week with speeches that indicated he had good relations with leaders in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, especially prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
Saturday’s Umno polls were also held to elect the deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 supreme council members.
“Team Zahid” failed to wrest the deputy president post, after Mr Zahid’s running mate and Kelantan chieftain Annuar Musa lost to former Negri Sembilan chief minister Mohamad Hasan.
Mr Zahid’s allies Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Mahdzir Khalid are set to take two of the vice-presidential spots in a seven-cornered battle. Both men won their respective parliamnetary seats in the May general election.
The preference for elected representatives appears to reflect the party’s desire to swiftly return to their winning ways and not rock the boat with new faces.