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Party Vote Leaves Malaysian Leader a Weakened Winner

Posted: 20 Oct 2013 01:22 PM PDT 

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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So close yet so far for Mukhriz

Posted: 20 Oct 2013 01:20 PM PDT 

The clearest hint of where the instruction could have come from lay in Pahang, where every single one of the 14 divisions gave their VP votes to Zahid, Shafie and Hisham­muddin. Not a single division in Pahang dared go against what they perceived as the wishes of Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Joceline Tan, The Star 

The big winner in the Umno elections was Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is now seen as a man destined for bigger things in the party.

THE media crowd were still crushed together around top Umno vice-president (VP) Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when another group of reporters started rushing towards the escalator area of the PWTC's fifth floor.

Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and a small entourage were making their way up the escalator and people were waving and calling out to him.

It was a little after 1am and the Mukhriz group had come from his house, which is just a stone's throw from the PWTC.

Sometimes, the one who loses attracts more attention than the winner and that was the case as reporters and cameramen pressed around him.

The official results for the hot race were in.

Zahid had emerged as the top Umno VP with 185 electoral votes, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal was close behind with 174 and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein got 99.

Mukhriz had lost to Hisham­muddin by only seven electoral votes although his overall popular vote was more than that of Hisham­muddin.

It was a case of so close yet so far and his team was very disappointed. But you would not have been able to tell looking at Mukhriz as he inched his way through the media squeeze that night.

He kept the smile on his face but his brother Datuk Mokhzani, who was at his side throughout, looked rather tense.

There was quite a bit of sympathy for Mukhriz among the press corps because he had lost a good fight.

They appreciated that he had fought a clean campaign and the consensus was that he would have won had there been no instruction from high up for the incumbents to be retained.

The clearest hint of where the instruction could have come from lay in Pahang, where every single one of the 14 divisions gave their VP votes to Zahid, Shafie and Hisham­muddin.

Not a single division in Pahang dared go against what they perceived as the wishes of Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"Pahang is the Prime Minister's state and we made the decision to go with the incumbents," said Temerloh Umno chief Datuk Sharkar Sham­suddin.

Mukhriz's political path has hit a road bump or perhaps even a road block. Like it or not, his arch rival Khairy Jamaluddin is a step ahead.

Some claimed the top-down order also involved not endorsing either Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad because no one could quite explain how the pair had ended up with a dismal seven divisions each.

The shocker was that Ali received support from only one division in Malacca – his own Bukit Katil division. Tangga Batu, headed by Ali's mentee and Chief Minister Datuk Idris Haron failed to carry him.

"Datuk Ali is still popular but delegates voted in a pragmatic way. In Tangga Batu, the delegates' sentiment were swayed by the fact that there is an army camp in the area. They felt they had to give the vote to Hishammuddin," said Malacca Umno secretary Datuk Akbar Ali.

The delegates wanted to go with the guaranteed winner. But Ali will find hard it to live it down and his hardcore supporters regard it as a stab in the back.

But party delegates in general are signalling that the VP post must be the training pod for those with potential to fill the very top post.

It should not be for politicians who are past their prime to use to prolong their career.

Hishammuddin's narrow escape is a wake-up call. This son of a former Prime Minister was seen as a potential Prime Minister from the day he stepped into politics.

But his political future is less than clear after what has happened.

There was an undeniable groundswell of disenchantment with his performance as a Cabinet minister and political style and he will have to step up his game.

Critics say he will have to drop his bangsawan or aristocratic style and come down to the people.

The re-elected VPs and the new supreme council line-up are hardly what one would call a dream team for Najib.

But, said a Najib insider, it comprises people he can work with.

"Status quo also means less disruption. There is no urgent need to immediate reshuffle Cabinet posts and he can quickly get past the politics and get down to the business of running the Government," said the insider.

There were substantial changes at the supreme council level where half of those elected were new faces.

The new leadership line-up is unlikely to rock the boat and that, apparently, is the way the No 1 likes it.

Zahid will be the man to watch in Umno. His resounding victory shows that the Home Minister has captured the imagination of Umno members with his uncompromising crackdown on organised crime and his defence of the police force.

They are also drawn to his unapologetic rhetoric on issues of race and religion.

Zahid has what the Chinese call that kamceng or camaraderie thing going on with whoever he meets and it sits well on the Umno people.

Very few doubt that he will be contented to stay where he is after such a spectacular return to the top VP slot.

It is a topic that very few want to openly discuss.

The Malay culture is such that it is seen as inappropriate to discuss such high ambitions unless the posts become vacant.

But the assumption is that he will be in line for the deputy president post should it become available.

Zahid and Najib are both 60 and they were contemporaries in Umno Youth.

Given Zahid's age, very few see him as a contender for Prime Minis-ter in the years ahead but many do see him as a potential Deputy Prime Minister if he plays it right.

The big question is whether he will wait till the post is available or make a play for it in three years' time. 

Government is Playing Politics with ‘Allah’

Posted: 20 Oct 2013 11:59 AM PDT 

Besides, the Government's argument has all along been that 'Allah' is to be used exclusively by Muslims. So how come it's all right for the Government to let the Sabah and Sarawak Christians use it too?

Kee Thuan Chye 

Firebombs didn't go off in mosques. Pigs' heads were not thrown into mosque compounds. These things did not happen after the Court of Appeal ruled against the High Court's 2009 decision to allow the Catholic weekly newspaper The Herald to use the word 'Allah' in referring to God.
They did not happen despite Muslim group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia's adding insult to injury by telling Christians to accept the verdict or leave the country. Its president, Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, said, "They can choose to move to another country if they cannot accept the supremacy of Islam and the royalty that protects the supremacy of the religion." It was irrelevant, uncalled-for and provocative, but the community that was targeted did not retaliate with violence. This of course is to its credit.
It did, however, react angrily to the verdict. Rev Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, declared: "This is yet another erosion and infringement of the constitutional protection to the freedom of religious communities to profess and practise their faith and to manage their own affairs. The decision might encourage and fuel further misunderstanding and mistrust between the Muslim and Christian communities which will further undermine the unity of Malaysians."
Bishop Thomas Tsen, president of the Sabah Council of Churches, said, "It is not fair to say that using 'Allah' would confuse Muslim practitioners. No, we have always called our father in heaven 'Allah Bapak' or the Lord God 'Tuhan Allah'… We are sad and disappointed about this current ruling … it challenges the government's sincerity to see our people united."

Archbishop Bolly Lapok, chairperson of the Association of Churches, Sarawak, censured chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali for saying that the use of the word 'Allah' was not integral to the Christian faith. In strong terms, he said, "The church does not need an apologist from outside to decide what is integral or not integral to our faith. It is repugnant to the universal common sense."

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