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Race heats up for top posts in ruling party

 
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October 5, 2008
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Race heats up for top posts in ruling party

Malaysia's senior politicians have started scrambling for coveted posts in the ruling party amid expectations of a major power shuffle once the embattled prime minister steps down, reported the Associated Press.

The contest will carve the next set of leaders in the United Malays National Organisation, which has been the bedrock of Malaysia's government for five decades but is battling to regain its luster after dispiriting results in March general elections.

Contenders are now vying for the support of party officials in 191 districts that will launch a series of nationwide meetings Thursday aimed at nominating candidates to compete in the party's top-level ballot scheduled for March next year.

"Nominations will start, and the ground troops are all set for some serious political maneuverings. Things are going to be hot in the next few weeks," said Ahmad A Talib, former chairman of the Malaysian Press Institute.

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Party members have clamored for fresh leadership after the government retained power with only a simple parliamentary majority in March. The party, whose members are from the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, is the biggest component of the multiethnic ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who endured much of the blame for the coalition's worst electoral performance ever, is widely expected to announce within a few days that he will not defend his position as the party's president.

Abdullah's deputy, Najib Razak, apparently has enough nominations to fill Abdullah's slot. His only known challenger is Razaleigh Hamzah, a lawmaker who might not receive the minimum number of 58 district nominations needed to formally contest the top job.

Candidates will likely to pledge to reinvigorate the party to fend off opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's three-party alliance. Anwar has unsettled many government supporters since March by trying to topple the ruling coalition through parliamentary defections.

All five prime ministers since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957 have been the president of the Malay party, while the deputy prime minister is typically the party's No. 2.

International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is the front-runner for the deputy presidency, but a junior Cabinet minister and a state chief last week offered to also contest the post if Najib moves up. Others might enter the race after Abdullah confirms his retirement.

Other contests will be even more crowded. Nearly a dozen popular figures might seek the party's three vice president slots, while scores of others will jostle to fill the 25-member Supreme Council policy-making body.

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