Abdullah wins ruling party presidency ahead of elections


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has secured the top post in Malaysia’s ruling party, after his sole challenger failed to capture enough nominations to oppose him in internal elections.

Abdullah’s elevation means he will automatically be the United Malays National Organization’s candidate for prime minister for at least the next three years. UMNO has led every government in Malaysia since independence in 1957.

The overwhelming party support for Abdullah came as little surprise after he led UMNO to a landslide victory in March national polls.

But a surprise run by old party rival Razaleigh Hamzah, a state prince and ex-finance minister, had threatened to cause a split in the notoriously faction-riven UMNO.

As of Monday, Abdullah was endorsed as UMNO president by 174 of the party’s 191 branches, Razaleigh had one, and 16 branches hadn’t met yet to decide. Razaleigh needed to secure a one-third minimum of all nominations to force a leadership contest at UMNO’s general assembly on Sept. 23.

“I am deeply touched by such massive support,” Abdullah was quoted as saying Monday by the national news agency, Bernama. “I believe … I will also get the cooperation of UMNO members at all levels to create a strong and united force to achieve our struggles in the interest of the religion, people and country.”

Abdullah succeeded veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad when he retired last October and has been UMNO’s acting president ever since.

UMNO’s internal elections have a direct bearing on the political future of this predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian nation of 25 million people, since the party chief traditionally becomes prime minister.

With more than 3 million members, UMNO represents Malaysia’s majority ethnic Malay Muslims and dominates the 14-party National Front, which won about 90 percent of Parliament’s seats in March, routing a fundamentalist Islamic opposition party.

Other UMNO heavyweights also retained their posts with ease. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak won the party’s No. 2 position unopposed, while Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz remained in command of the UMNO women’s wing.

New faces include Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, who becomes the youth wing’s deputy chief despite a minor controversy over whether his ties with Abdullah helped him.

Razaleigh’s bid for the presidency was his second after a failed challenge against Mahathir in 1987.