Zahid cements grip on Umno as loyalists sweep party polls

Among those who won supreme council seats were Cabinet ministers and those in Umno president Zahid Hamidi's camp. PHOTO: ZAHID HAMIDI/FACEBOOK

KUALA LUMPUR - Results for Umno internal polls on Sunday saw president Zahid Hamidi cementing his grip on the party, with loyalists having swept most of the top posts, including two out of three vice-president posts, supreme council seats and the party’s wings.

Pahang Chief Minister Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin, and former second finance minister Johari Ghani won the three Umno vice-president posts, Umno election committee chairman Shahrir Samad told a news conference.

Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy, who obtained the highest number of votes at 124, and Datuk Seri Khaled, who came in second with 114 votes, are seen as aligned to Zahid. Datuk Seri Johari garnered 107 votes.

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.

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

The main contest was for the three vice-president posts in an eight-way fight.

There were also contests for the 25 seats on the supreme council, Umno’s top decision-making body.

Leadership contests were also held in 187 of the 191 Umno divisions nationwide. Four divisions had their elections suspended due to internal matters.

University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi said the line-up was mostly made up of those who were “Zahid-friendly”.

Among those who won supreme council seats were Cabinet ministers and those in Zahid’s camp.

The wins should ensure the strength of the unity government led by Mr Anwar, and provide Zahid greater stability to lead Umno and the Barisan Nasional coalition.

“What is crucial now is that the party wings will have to prove that they will be able to win back youth votes in the upcoming elections in six states,” Dr Azman told The Straits Times.

“If they succeed in providing stiff competition to PN (Perikatan Nasional), only then will this show that the internal elections this time are capable of reviving and rejuvenating Umno while the pro-PN factions within Umno will become smaller,” he added.

If candidates aligned to the top two leaders of Umno had failed to win at least two-thirds of the supreme council, then this could have led to a vote of no confidence against the two, resulting in a change of party leadership and the collapse of the unity government, said Dr Azman.

Umno is fraught with infighting, but Zahid had bolstered his hand with 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 it remains a major kingmaker in Malaysian politics after throwing its support behind Mr Anwar, allowing him to gain a parliamentary majority and become prime minister.

In polling on March 11 by some 160,000 divisional delegates, Umno leaders aligned to Zahid won the chief posts for the youth and women’s wings.

Zahid’s daughter Nurul Hidayah and Ms Nooryana Najwa Najib, daughter of former prime minister Najib Razak, were elected to the executive councils of the women’s and puteri (young women’s) wings, respectively.

In the divisional polls over the weekend, Najib’s son, Datuk Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, was voted in as chief of the Langkawi Umno division.

Another son, Datuk Mohd Nizar Najib, was elected as division vice-chief in Najib’s ward of Pekan, Pahang. 

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