Mukhriz’s VP bid first step towards new Dr M era? 

(MMO) – Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir’s entry into the Umno vice-president’s race portends his father, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s desire to reassert a hold over the Malay nationalist party, said a political analyst.

According to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, this was because Umno — the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) — was seen as holding the keys to the country’s economy.

“With billions of dollars in the offing, nothing is better than being in the centre of Umno,” Shamsul was quoted as saying by the Astro Awani portal in a report yesterday.

On Thursday, the Kedah mentri besar ended speculation on whether he would aim for one of the three VP spots when he came out to announce his candidacy in Alor Setar. Days before that, Dr Mahathir warned Umno of a pressing need for new blood in the party, saying in party mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia that the older generation of leaders should not overstay their welcome.

“… they have to realise how important it is not to exceed their time. Sooner or later people will feel bored, even get disgusted of leaders that are outdated but still don’t want to accept the truth,” the country’s longest-serving prime minister wrote in his column in Utusan Malaysia on Monday.

Observers suspect, however, that call was a pre-emptive volley for his son’s then-unannounced campaign.

The Malay Mail Online previously reported that Mukhriz’s bid for ascendancy was symptomatic of a desire from Umno’s “old guard” to preserve the right wing leanings in the party.

“A win or lose is not the point. The point is to signal their presence,” Shamsul said further in the report.

The emergence of Akhramsyah Sanusi, the son of Tan Sri Sanusi Junid and loyal ally to Dr Mahathir, to challenge Khairy Jamaluddin for the post of Umno Youth chief further bolstered perception that an orchestrated effort was being conducted to entrench the conservatives’ hold over Umno.

When announcing his candidacy today, Akhramsyah was forced to deny he was a stand-in for Dr Mahathir’s camp in the Umno Youth race.

“I deny that I belong to any faction… if you say I am a proxy I would say yes I am. I am a proxy that represents the aspiration of grassroots members that want change,” he said here yesterday.

 Far-reaching effects

The contest for a seat of power in Menara Datuk Onn also has bearings in faraway Putrajaya.

A victory by Mukhriz in the vice-presidency race would put him on the path to mount a challenge for the number two spot in the party ahead of the 14th general election, which, if successful, could make him Malaysia’s next deputy prime minister.

Already, the Umno-linked blogs that rose to prominence during Dr Mahathir’s vitriolic — and successful — campaign to unseat successor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have begun to promote Mukhriz’s bid for the vice presidency, introducing a #MM4VP hashtag to generate grassroots support for him on social media sites.

In him, they see the promise of a return to the days of Dr Mahathir’s uncompromising rule over Malaysia and a reverse of the reforms and policies that they allege have allowed the special position of the Malays and the sanctity of Islam to be challenged.

Dr Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, but has remained active in Malaysian politics despite his retirement.

Still, Mukhriz, the “young” 48-year-old politician, will not have an easy task to win one of the three coveted spots, even with the support of his father and the latter’s loyalists.

He faces a crowded field that includes powerful incumbents Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal; and aspirants Datuk Seri Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Abdul Isa Samad, both wily old campaigners.

Adding to the uncertainty of the race this time around is the enlarged voter pool.

This year’s election will see some 146,500 delegates directly elect their top leaders after the party amended its constitution to allow more members to vote, up from the previous 2,500.

Nominations for the Umno supreme council elections will be held on September 28 and voting on October 19.