Party Vote Leaves Malaysian Leader a Weakened Winner 

Allies of Prime Minister Najib Razak fought off challenges from conservatives in high-stakes party elections on Saturday night, leaving Mr. Najib in firm control — at least for now — over the United Malays National Organization.

Abhrajit Gangopadhyay, WSJ 

But while Mr. Najib, who wasn’t contested as his party’s leader, kept allies in key party roles, he has been weakened, as shown by his recent tacks to the right to appease his conservative wing, analysts said.

And one conservative challenger who scored a large vote tally despite losing his bid to win one of three vice presidency slots — Mukhriz Mahathir, the chief minister of the northern state of Kedah — emerged as a potential formidable foe to Mr. Najib going forward.

The internal elections of UMNO are held every three years. The UMNO is Malaysia’s largest political party that is at the core of 14-member National Front coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957. About 150,000 UMNO members voted through an electoral college, in which each of 191 party districts got to pick one person per contested post. The voting was held across the country.

The poll is politically significant because the party president is, by default, the premier of the country. The party’s deputy chief is the deputy prime minister.

While those spots weren’t contested, six people battled for three vice president spots.

The current vice presidents,  Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and Rural and Regional Development Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal were pitted against Mohd Ali Rustam, a former chief minister of the western state of Malacca; Isa Samad, chairman of the state-run plantation company Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd., and Mr. Mukhriz. The incumbents won.

Among the challengers, Mr. Mukhriz, cornered most of the votes, winning in 91 out of 191 UMNO districts, compared to Mr. Samad and Mr. Ali Rustom, each of who won in seven districts. The voter-getting success of Mr. Mukhriz, who is the youngest son of Mahathir Mohamad – the former prime minister and Malay rights champion whose 22-year often-autocratic rule transformed agrarian Malaysia to one of the most industrialized economies in the region — suggests the strong support that Mr. Mahathir still enjoys within the party ranks.

“Mr. Mahathir will be Mr. Najib’s number one opposition and source of headache,” said Amir Fareed, director at political risk consultancy KRA Group.

Conservatives have rallied in the wake of the UMNO’s weakest showing ever in national elections in May, when hundreds of thousands of urban voters — mostly the ethnic Chinese minority — deserted the ruling coalition in protest of its policies favoring ethnic Malay Muslims.

Strong backing from the rural Malay Muslims — UMNO’s traditional voting bloc — saved the day for the ruling coalition.

Doubts, however, arose over Mr. Najib’s leadership. Since then, Mr. Najib has reversed himself on several policy reforms, such as deciding to throw his support to additional preferential treatment for ethnic Malays in jobs and housing. 

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