Khairy to contest Umno presidency in seven-way race

Former Malaysian minister Khairy Jamaluddin threw his hat into the ring yesterday, making him one of seven candidates for the Umno president's race.

Umno officials declined to list the names of the candidates yesterday, which was the last day for nominations, saying they will be revealed today.

Mr Khairy, 42, is up against several prominent contenders who have announced their interest, including acting president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, 65, and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, 81.

Mr Khairy, who is the son-in-law of former prime minister and Umno stalwart Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, yesterday showed his Umno nomination form in a post on Instagram. He had earlier said he would vie for one of the three vice-president posts.

Explaining in a statement later, he said he changed his mind "after thinking of Umno's future and survival in today's circumstances".

"I decided to contest the Umno president post because I want party members to have a choice as to which direction Umno needs to be steered."

A screenshot of former minister Khairy Jamaluddin's Instagram post showing his Umno nomination form. Umno's polls will be held on June 30.
A screenshot of former minister Khairy Jamaluddin's Instagram post showing his Umno nomination form. Umno's polls will be held on June 30. PHOTO: KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN/INSTAGRAM

Mr Khairy touted Umno reforms as necessary by calling for its total restructuring. "Umno must restore the spirit of openness in all aspects," he said, citing examples of centrist left policies that espouse freedom to openly express views and criticise leaders without fear of being fired.

Malaysia's oldest and largest political party has become hierarchical, with power concentrated in the hands of warlords - party elders and chiefs of the 191 Umno divisions nationwide who prioritise seniority and control how party funds are distributed. Former premier Najib Razak stepped down as president days after leading his coalition to a disastrous loss in last month's general election.

The shock defeat led Umno to announce an open contest for all posts, paving the way for the first presidency contest in 31 years. In 1987, a No. 1 fight between then president Mahathir Mohamad and veteran Tengku Razaleigh split the party into two, with the losing faction forming the Semangat 46 party.

The Umno polls will be held on June 30.

Mr Khairy is keen to capture the party's imagination to rejuvenate itself. He has suggested that Umno open itself to outsiders holding leadership posts - from academicians to professionals to activists. He said: "We open Umno's doors widely to whoever wants to rebuild our party."

Soon after Tengku Razaleigh announced his candidacy last Saturday, Datuk Seri Zahid issued a statement saying he hoped the contest would not split Umno into two.

Several state party leaders have called for Mr Zahid to consider pulling out of the race, as he was part of the Najib team that caused the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition to lose power.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Khairy to contest Umno presidency in seven-way race'. Print Edition | Subscribe