Delegates determine who leads Malaysia

Lawyers, small-time building contractors, stay-at-home mothers and farmers make up some of the 2,762 delegates attending the Umno general assembly that started yesterday.

They come from 12 of Malaysia's 13 states where the country's biggest political party has a presence.

Umno does not have any members in Sarawak, which is administered by its allies in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

These Umno perwakilan (Malay for delegates) hold an important position in Malaysian politics as they, rather than non-Umno Malaysian voters, are the ones who pick the prime minister and most of his Cabinet members, .

At elections, Malaysians vote for their favourite political group - BN or the various opposition parties.

And when BN wins - as it has in the last 13 general elections - it is Umno members who vote in, every three years, their party president and other top office-bearers, who by convention automatically become the prime minister, deputy prime minister and senior Cabinet ministers.

That is why any internal turmoil involving Umno's top leaders will send Malaysia into a tizzy, as the country's leadership is also at stake.

The Umno delegates at the assembly are representatives from the party's 191 divisions, with each division comprising a federal constituency. Each division sends 14 members to the annual congress held at the Putra World Trade Centre, where Umno's headquarters is located.

Among the 14 are the G7 or Group of Seven, as they are called in Umno. These are the division's chief, his deputy, vice-chief, secretary and the chiefs of the Women's, Youth and Puteri (Young Women) wings.

The other seven delegates are chosen by divisional ballot, thus comprising the most popular ordinary members at the grassroots level.

Multiplying 191 by 14 gives 2,674. The remaining 88 delegates who make up the total 2,762 are appointed officials from party headquarters, like its permanent chairman.

The three wings hold their own separate meetings and each one has its own list of just over 950 delegates.

This article was first published on December 9, 2015.
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