New faces vie for top Umno positions

New faces vie for top Umno positions
File photo of the Mahathirs, with Tun Dr Mahathir (left) giving moral support to his son, at the 2008 general election.

MALAYSIA - THE emergence of forces aligned with former premier Mahathir Mohamad to contest some of Umno's top posts in the upcoming elections is not all bad for the party.

The new faces show that Umno grassroots members welcome change, say analysts.

Following the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional's worst electoral performance in May, some grassroots members in Umno, the dominant party of BN, are backing new challengers to shake up the party in its closely watched elections on Oct 12 and 19.

Some of these challengers are aligned with Tun Dr Mahathir, who still wields influence in the party, despite having retired in 2003.

Dr Shamsul Adabi Mamat, a political analyst at National University of Malaysia in Bangi, said grassroots members are not pressuring Prime Minister Najib Razak, the party president, to step down.

Indeed, Mr Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin were unchallenged in last Saturday's nominations.

Instead, these members believe that some degree of Mahathir- style politics, which is more conservative and prioritises Malays-first policies, will strengthen Umno. Mr Najib is known to be more liberal and open to reforms.

"They see the Mahathir days as a benchmark for Malays' strength in the country," Dr Shamsul told The Straits Times yesterday.

Mr Asri Salleh, a political analyst at the Universiti Teknologi Mara in Terengganu, said, however, that this may still throw Mr Najib's position into some uncertainty, as grassroots members are split on whether Dr Mahathir's legacy should return more strongly.

"Mr Najib and Dr Mahathir have different leadership styles and the Umno grassroots members know it," he said. "Whom they vote in as Supreme Council members will determine if a shift of balance is taking shape."

Over the years, Umno has struggled with the lack of young leaders, as it is difficult to rise up the ranks when the old guard's positions are intact, say observers.

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