KUALA LUMPUR - The counting of votes is underway on Saturday as Umno holds its internal polls for the second weekend, with the results expected to strengthen president Zahid Hamidi’s grip on the party.
The Umno polls are closely-watched as it is a member of Malaysia’s ruling coalition and any sign of instability could affect the administration of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Zahid, who is close to Datuk Seri Anwar, is the country’s Deputy Prime Minister.
In the Umno polls, Zahid and his deputy president Mohamad Hasan have retained their seats after the party blocked contests for the two top positions.
The main contest is for the three vice-president posts in an eight-way fight. There are also contests for the 25 seats on the supreme council, Umno’s top decision-making body.
Leadership contests are also being held in 189 of the 191 Umno divisions nationwide. Two divisions had their elections suspended due to internal matters.
Umno is riven with infighting, but Zahid has strengthened his hand by the January sacking of ambitious ex-Cabinet minister Khairy Jamaluddin, and the six-year suspension of another former minister, Hishammuddin Hussein.
Umno has only 26 seats in Parliament, its lowest in history, but the party is a major kingmaker in Malaysian politics after throwing its support behind Mr Anwar – its long-time nemesis – allowing him to gain a parliamentary majority and become prime minister.
In last weekend’s polling by some 160,000 divisional delegates, Umno leaders aligned to Zahid won the chief posts for the Youth and Women’s wings.
In the ongoing counting on Saturday, at least two vice-president candidates seen as closely aligned to Zahid - Law Minister Azalina Othman and Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin - received among the highest number of votes.
As around 9.30pm Saturday, Pahang chief minister Wan Rosdy Ismail has secured 22 votes out of the total 189, Mr Khaled 17 votes, ex-finance minister Datuk Seri Johari Ghani 14 votes, and Datuk Seri Azalina 10.
If Zahid’s vice-president candidates came out winners, this should provide him with greater stability to lead Umno.
Universiti of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi said it was too early to predict the results as the situation could change.
“The results are expected to trickle out until tomorrow (Sunday). I...