Malaysia elections: Next battle: Staying on as party president

Reme Ahmad in Alor Setar
The Straits Times
Thu, May 09, 2013

PM Najib Razak has to convince warlords in his own party to keep him on as chief.

MALAYSIA – Even as the dust settles from his victorious battle against Malaysia’s galvanised opposition, Prime Minister Najib Razak might be heading for another fight – convincing warlords in his own party to keep him on as chief.

Umno is scheduled to hold its internal elections, held every three years, before the end of this year.

Some expect the Umno president to face a challenge from his deputy then.

Datuk Seri Najib’s performance in the general election will be the main yardstick used by Umno leaders to decide whether to let the 59-year-old continue as president, or to allow Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, 66, to mount a challenge.

The Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 parliamentary seats on Sunday, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) getting 89. In the previous general election, BN had won 140 seats.

So yes, under Mr Najib, the 13-party ruling coalition had won back Kedah and kept Perak. The latter was taken from PR a year after the 2008 election as a result of defections by several assemblymen; Mr Najib has now secured a mandate to keep it.

But were Sunday’s results good enough? Analysts have mixed views.

“I don’t think 133 is a bad number under the current state of politics,” said Associate Professor Sivamurugan Pandian from Malaysia Science University in Penang. “He has won his mandate to do things his own way and to utilise his mandate.”

Still, the murmurs in Umno about the looming leadership challenge to Mr Najib will not go away.

After all, he fell short of his own target of getting a two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament. And he did not win back Malaysia’s wealthiest state Selangor, despite appointing himself as state election What’s more, conservative elements within Umno have long been unhappy with Mr Najib’s assiduous wooing of the minority Chinese voters, including raising funding to Chinese schools and recognising the degrees of overseas Chinese universities.

In his victory speech early on Monday, Mr Najib said that since voting had been racially polarised – with most Chinese voting for the opposition – “one of the programmes we will undertake is national reconciliation”.

But this could be yet “another unwelcome signal” to his critics in the nationalist Malay party, said a Kedah Umno leader.

Both insiders and observers warn that Umno can ill-afford another divisive leadership battle.

“Umno at this stage cannot afford to have another big fight as this could cause BN to collapse,” said Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak from Malaysia’s National Council of Professors.

There are also concerns that while Umno has retained the support of rural Malay voters, urban Malays continued to drift away.

The final signal on Umno’s direction could come from an 87-year-old figure who still wields much influence, observers say.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad had helped push Mr Najib’s predecessor, Tun Abdullah Badawi, out of office after BN lost its two-thirds majority in 2008. In March, he said that if Mr Najib failed to perform, a leadership challenge would be normal.

Much, therefore, might hinge on whether Dr Mahathir gives Mr Najib a passing grade.

  1. #1 by lauksnatlks on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 - 9:50 am

    I think the writings are on the wall. Bye Bye Najib.

  2. #2 by patriotmalaysian on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 - 3:19 pm

    this najib will be there as a PM for the next 5 years. There won t be any challenger in umno be able to take on him. No need to speculate…believe me.

    Moohidin is so stupid that he don t even hv the chance to be the next PM. Moohidin might be challenge for his deputy post…wait & see. If najib did not give chance to this moohidin, do you think he can be dpm. Ahmad Zahidi can defeat him anytime for the deputy post.

    The next idiot likely taking over najib when he decided to retired will be either krismudin or ahmad zahidi.

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