Mukhriz Mahathir, the 48-year-old son of Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, lost his bid to become a vice president of the country’s biggest political party, setting back plans to establish himself as a future national leader.
Mukhriz came in fourth in a weekend vote by members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation to select three vice presidents, beaten to third place by Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s cousin. Fellow incumbents Rural and Regional Development Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi secured the most votes, official results on the party’s website show.
This means a leadership status quo for at least the next three years, with Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin returned unopposed as the party’s president and deputy president, even after leading the governing coalition to its narrowest victory since independence in 1957 during May’s general election. Khairy Jamaluddin is staying on as youth wing leader, while Shahrizat Abdul Jalil remains women’s wing head, UMNO said.
“We don’t need new line-ups or leadership to initiate changes,” Najib, 60, told reporters yesterday in Putrajaya, the country’s administrative center outside of Kuala Lumpur. “This team is capable of translating the transformation agenda into making Malaysia a developed nation.”
Mukhriz’s 88-year-old father Mahathir Mohamad led Malaysia for 22 years before retiring in 2003. His dad’s rise to power was marked by his push to deepen policies favoring ethnic Malays and indigenous people, known locally as Bumiputeras, who make up the majority of the country’s 29 million-strong population. He enforced an affirmative action program to increase their wealth compared with the minority ethnic Indian and Chinese communities.
With the return of the incumbents “Najib will be able to push for his reform agenda,” Ibrahim Suffain, a political analyst at the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, said in a phone interview yesterday. “There are still some conservative elements in the party. Mahathir’s influence is limited now.”
Najib sought to bolster support from rank-and-file members last month by boosting privileges for the party’s core base of Bumiputera supporters. The extra aid included a 10 billion ringgit ($3.2 billion) unit trust to support skills training, education and home ownership, and a pledge of more government-linked concessions and contracts.
Najib rolled back some preferences after first becoming leader in 2009 to boost international competitiveness. That included doing away with a requirement that foreign companies investing in Malaysia and locally listed businesses set aside 30 percent of their equity for the Bumiputeras. He’s also made cash handouts to poor of all races.
The prime minister denied in an Oct. 11 interview that last month’s additional assistance amounted to a policy reversal, saying affirmative action was required for the benefit of all to ensure social stability.
Najib was a teenager when riots erupted between Muslim Malays and ethnic Chinese in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. His father Abdul Razak Hussein became prime minister the following year and responded with a program to reduce Chinese dominance in business.
In 2010, Najib started economic and government transformation programs aimed at boosting competitiveness and helping Malaysia move up the value chain as it aims to become a high-income nation by 2020. This included identifying $444 billion of private-sector investment projects, including oil storages and mass rail, to complete in the current decade.
The prime minister, who is also finance minister, will unveil his 2014 policy priorities in a budget speech on Oct. 25.
Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy withstood faltering overseas demand in the past year as Najib gave handouts to voters and boosted investment ahead of the May vote. GDP expanded more than 4 percent in each of the 15 quarters through June 2013.
Mahathir told the official Bernama news service yesterday that he’d warned his son Mukhriz that he had a 50-50 chance or less of getting elected a party vice president on first attempt.
“He only lost by nine votes and to me it should be seen as a personal victory,” Muhyiddin separately told reporters in Putrajaya yesterday.
Mukhriz secured more votes than two other contenders for the three vice presidency slots, Isa Abdul Samad, chairman of palm oil producer Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd., and former Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam, UMNO said.