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Umno Youth polls crucial to party’s renewal

KUALA LUMPUR, 24 March 2009: At 11am tomorrow, 791 Umno Youth delegates will cast their votes to elect their new leaders, including the movement’s chief, in elections widely seen as crucial in transforming Umno and ensuring the party remains relevant.

The elections this time around will not only test the delegates’ maturity but also their humility in listening to the voters’ message in the 12th general election last year.

“People want changes; they want incorruptible leaders. The results of the Umno Youth elections will be a test whether the delegates understand the message,” political analyst Associate Professor Dr Ahmad Nidzamuddin Sulaiman told Bernama when contacted.

The Umno Youth elections are crucial as most of the 4.9 million young voters in the last general election were seen to have shifted towards the opposition, resulting in the Barisan Nasional (BN) losing its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

Mukhriz Mahathir
Having won only 51% in popular votes in the election, Umno and the BN appear to be in a dire situation; more so if one considers the prospect of even a 1% vote swing towards the opposition in the 13th general election about four years from now.

“The elections this time around will determine the survival of Umno. In the 13th general election, there will be about 1.5 million new voters and these are young people,” said Jerlun Member of Parliament (MP) Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, who is vying for the Umno Youth chief’s post.

The three candidates for the post — Mukhriz, 44, supreme council member Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, 43, and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, 33 — agree that changes in Umno should start with the movement.

Mukhriz stresses on the need for the Umno Youth to be the pressure group either in or outside the government and act more like a non-governmental organisation.

Mohd Khir wants the movement to champion the voice of the people and not that of the government. “If we fail to be the voice of the people, the voters will shift to the opposition,” said Mohd Khir, who obtained 62 nominations for the post, the second highest after Mukhriz’s 74. Khairy garnered 52 nominations.

Khir Toyo (Pic by johnleemk; source:
Khairy, who is also the movement’s vice-chief, has said it was important to bring Umno Youth back to the masses, with emphasis on generating the economy at the grassroots level for the sake of the young generation.

“Among the tasks of the Umno Youth is to facilitate access to the various facilities and economic opportunities provided by the government,” he said.

Khairy is banking on the tag Setiakawan (Camaraderie) against Mohd Khir’s Pemuda Berani (Brave Youth) and Mukhriz’s Berani Berubah (Dare to Change).

Gray voter to determine outcome

A Youth delegate from Perak described the contest for the movement’s top post as “tough”, saying that among the 791 delegates, there were 10% “gray” voters who would determine the outcome.

“The three candidates are tied at 30-30-30, with each being supported by about 30% of the delegates. No single candidate can say they are in the lead as 10% of the [voters] will have the final say,” said the delegate, who declined to be named.

Of the three, Mohd Khir is the most experienced, having been the Selangor menteri besar; but Mukhriz and Khairy have their own strengths. Khairy is the youngest, which will be an asset in getting the young to support the party; while Mukhriz is seen as a vocal leader who often offers alternative views.

The Umno Disciplinary Board’s decision, which found Khairy guilty of breaching party ethics but let him off with a stern warning, could further influence the polls.

But the questions remain: will the voice of the grassroots be heard in this elections? Will the delegates decide based on the party’s aspirations, or will there be other factors that influence their voting pattern?

“We cannot blame the delegates if they vote not in accordance with the wishes of the grassroots,” Mohamad Khir said. “The delegates know the candidates personally. They know the capabilities of each of us.”

That notwithstanding, political analysts stress that the delegates should vote based on whether a leader has the ability to bring changes to the party. The outcome will be known tomorrow night when the results of the elections are announced. — Bernama

See also: Umno general assembly gets underway

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