Women's wing: Easy win expected for incumbent

Malaysia - The incumbent Umno women's wing chief has won even before the battle proper has begun.

Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil was last month appointed by Prime Minister Najib Razak as his special adviser on women's affairs with the rank of a minister. That is widely seen as endorsement from the Umno president that she should remain the wing's chief.

Last Tuesday, she picked up her seventh endorsement to remain chief from the Perak women's wing. Since Umno has a presence in 12 Malaysian states except Sarawak, it means the majority of the states are behind her.

Then on Wednesday, the sole contender for the chief's post, former minister Azalina Othman Said, announced that she was withdrawing.

An unknown, Madam Raihan Suleiman, has announced her interest in standing against Madam Shahrizat but is not expected to pose much of a threat.

Still, a victory for Madam Shahrizat presents a big problem for Umno and its women's wing, a key group that forms roughly half of the party's membership.

While very popular at the grassroots for her charm and hard work, she is tainted by a multimillion dollar scandal involving her family.

Madam Shahrizat says she did not do anything wrong in the scandal involving government loans to her husband's former cattle company National Feedlot Corp, which were used - among other things - to buy luxury condominium units in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

With her husband charged with criminal breach of trust and misuse of nearly RM50 million (S$19.3 million), she has struggled to convince everyone that she had zero knowledge of the deal.

Many party members are worried that retaining Madam Shahrizat would send a signal to Malaysians that Umno condones a leader who has been tainted with corruption.

Or as former women's wing chief Rafidah Aziz said, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider website: "Some place their personal goals over and above the needs of the party and words of advice are going to do very little to change anything."

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