Vote counting under way in Umno’s internal polls, with eyes on president’s loyalists

In the Umno polls, Zahid Hamidi (above) and his deputy president Mohamad Hasan have retained their seats after the party blocked contests for the two top positions. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - The counting of votes remained under way on Sunday morning after Umno held its internal polls for the second weekend, with the results, due in the evening, expected to strengthen president Zahid Hamidi’s grip on the party.

The Umno polls are closely watched as the party is a member of Malaysia’s ruling coalition and any sign of instability could affect the administration of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Zahid, who is close to Datuk Seri Anwar, is the country’s Deputy Prime Minister.

In the Umno polls, Zahid and his deputy president Mohamad Hasan have retained their seats after the party earlier blocked contests for the two top positions.

The main contest is for the three vice-president posts in an eight-way fight. There are also contests for the 25 seats on the supreme council, Umno’s top decision-making body.

Leadership contests are also being held in 189 of the 191 Umno divisions nationwide. Two divisions had their elections suspended due to internal matters.

In the ongoing counting, at least three vice-president candidates were seen as being aligned to Zahid – Pahang chief minister Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, Law Minister Azalina Othman and Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin. They were among those who received the highest number of votes.

As of Sunday before noon, unofficial results showed that Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy had secured the minimum 63 votes needed – or one-third of the 189 total votes – with 120 votes.

Datuk Seri Khaled was in second place with 110 votes. Traling him were former finance minister Johari Abdul Ghani in third position with 99 votes, and Datuk Seri Azalina in fourth.

If the Zahid allies emerge winners, this should provide him with greater stability to lead Umno.

Umno is riven with infighting, but Zahid has strengthened his hand by the January sacking of ambitious former Cabinet minister Khairy Jamaluddin, and the six-year suspension of former defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Umno has only 26 seats in Parliament, its lowest in history, but the party is a major kingmaker in Malaysian politics after throwing its support behind Mr Anwar – its long-time nemesis – allowing him to gain a parliamentary majority and become prime minister.

In last weekend’s polling by some 160,000 divisional delegates, Umno leaders aligned to Zahid won the chief posts for the Youth and Women’s wings.

Zahid said on Saturday that he hopes the results of his party polls will boost Umno’s position.

“My hope is that the decision that will be made by 189 divisions will serve as a step for Umno’s revival 2.0,” he said.

Once the party polls are over, Umno will get cracking on preparations for the elections of six state assemblies in 2023, deputy president Mohamad said.

In the divisional polls on Saturday, the son of former prime minister Najib Razak, Datuk Mohd Nazifuddin, was voted in as chief of the Langkawi Umno division, according to The Star daily.

He had last week lost in the contest to become Umno Youth’s deputy chief.

Last weekend, Zahid’s daughter Nurul Hidayah, and the daughter of Najib, Nooryana Najwa, were elected to the executive councils of the Women’s and Puteri (Young Women’s) wings, respectively.

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