THE results of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) elections will reinforce Prime Minister Najib Razak's position for now.
Having his allies in key roles within Malaysia's largest political party is the best outcome for a nation seeking calm stewardship in the aftermath of the May general election, in which the Barisan Nasional won a majority but trailed in the popular vote.
Mr Najib retained the Umno presidency without contest. But more indicative of the direction Umno, the titular leader of the Barisan, could take are the challenges mounted by conservatives within the party.
The appeal of Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the best performer in the Umno elections, is attributed to his strong positions on organised crime, policing, race and religion. At 60, though, age is not on his side, unlike other Umno leaders such as Mr Mukhriz Mahathir (son of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) whose conservative challenge saw him lose by just a few electoral votes, despite an overall popular vote greater than that of his rival, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
Not surprisingly, observers are asking if a tack to the right is a sign of things to come.
Umno's rank-and-file are an assertive cabal of special interests which party leaders never took for granted. But Malaysians in general would be wary of any radical lurch resulting from the struggle for influence between moderates and the illiberal Malays-only faction, which intensified after Chinese voters deserted the Barisan in the general election.
It forced Mr Najib into acts to appease an indignant Malay ground - via a reconstituted privileges package named Bumiputera Economic Empowerment - which many saw as a rollback of his 1Malaysia proclamation.
Just how significant an ethos of inclusiveness might be for Malaysia is suggested in remarks ascribed to Mr Khairy Jamaluddin after he retained the youth wing's leadership, by tradition a springboard to bigger things. Mr Khairy said that while Umno represented Malay interests, its ideology had to be inclusive and all-encompassing, not one practised at the expense of other races.
With the electoral wipeout of the Chinese and Indian parties within the Barisan, Umno really is the Barisan unto itself. Dominance carries a responsibility to exercise its remit wisely.
With an eye on the future, Umno should dedicate itself to the unity of a maturing nation, so that Malaysia can fulfil its economic potential for the benefit of all.
PM Najib has the mandate, now that party and national polls have been held. He will need the wide support of Malaysians if he is to achieve his goal of making Malaysia a high-income economy before 2020.
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