SINGAPORE: Former Malaysia health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said he is considering running for the post of president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) at the next party election that is expected to be held before the middle of this year.

“Will I contest for the presidency of my party? I am thinking about it,” he said in response to a question during an ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute regional outlook forum in Singapore on Tuesday (Jan 10).

Mr Khairy was a three-term Member of Parliament for Rembau, Negeri Sembilan before he was moved to contest the more urban constituency of Sungai Buloh in Selangor during the 15th General Election (GE15) on Nov 19.

Urban seats are considered Pakatan Harapan (PH) strongholds.

Mr Khairy eventually lost to PH’s K Ramanan in a seven-cornered contest as his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition emerged a distant third in the election by winning only 30 seats, behind PH’s 81 seats and Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) 74 seats.

But PH, BN and other parties have formed a unity government while PN – comprising Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and other parties – is in the opposition.

Mr Khairy called the next UMNO election the “most important” in the party’s history, pointing out its dismal results in recent elections and saying that it would determine if the party could reform and remain relevant, or “rest in peace”.

“I think this time around, the stakes are much, much higher. Because whoever wins (the UMNO presidency) will lead the party into the next election,” he said.

Mr Khairy also ran for the party’s top post at its previous election in 2018, but he lost to current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Ahmad Zahid is now one of two deputy prime ministers in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Cabinet.

The deputy prime minister said on Jan 5 that he was confident of retaining the presidency if challenged during the next election, pointing out that he garnered 93 votes in 2018.

This is more than Mr Khairy’s 51 votes and another challenger Tengku Razaleigh’s 23 votes combined.

Local media quoted Johor UMNO deputy chairman Nur Jazlan Mohamed as saying on Jan 3 that UMNO members needed to focus on restoring people’s faith in the party instead of replacing their top two leaders, fuelling speculation that the posts would not be contested.

This issue will be discussed during a Supreme Council meeting held at the sidelines of the party’s General Assembly, to be held from this Wednesday to Saturday.

Mr Khairy said on Tuesday that he wanted to ensure that no motion will be passed at the General Assembly preventing the party’s top two posts from being contested at the next election.

“In the past they’ve closed it before, and that’s highly undemocratic. And this, of all elections, is absolutely critical for the future of my party,” he said.

Mr Khairy also refuted suggestions that a change in UMNO leadership will bring political instability as it could collapse the government.

“Today I want to say this clearly, categorically… That if I, or my allies, win the presidency, win the leadership of my party, we will commit our support to the unity government, to Anwar Ibrahim, and to you.”

He reiterated his pledge to ensure that any change in UMNO leadership will not cause political instability, as this was “not what Malaysia needs”.

“That’s not going to happen. No change in government, no change in prime minister, maybe a change in deputy prime minister, who knows?” he added.


In his speech at the forum, Mr Khairy also touched on how UMNO could be outflanked by the opposition PN, citing preliminary analyses of the GE15 results and a shift in the Malay vote.

He said 54 per cent of the Malay vote went to PN, 33 per cent went to BN, while 11 per cent to 20 per cent went to PH.

“The implication and one that is very serious, and one that is very urgent, is the fact that you have a 74-member bloc in opposition which is almost homogenous Malay-Muslim,” he said.

“That means in opposition, it’s clearer in what they will appeal to. They have no pretenses about trying to bring together disparate ideologies, ethnicities, demographic groups into a coalition.

“They can just go for identity politics, they can just go for ethnicity and racial issues without any concern because it is a homogenous opposition bloc. And that will fracture, and can fracture, the country even more,” said Mr Khairy.

He said the Anwar-led government, however, has in three ways tried to prevent further loss of support from the Malay community.

Mr Khairy noted that Mr Anwar has burnished his Malay-Muslim credentials by reaching out to Malay-Muslim international leaders and meeting Malay-Muslim intellectuals, while also asking the Democratic Action Party, a PH component party perceived as anti-Malay, to take a less prominent role in the government.

“And third, of course, is attacking PAS and Bersatu, and this will be done politically and also non-politically through other means, to ensure that the credibility of these parties are eroded,” Mr  Khairy said.

The former UMNO Youth chief, however, said his party must also not shy away from using the race and religion card in politics to some extent, and debate the issue on its own terms.

“Because if you don’t do it, someone else is going to do it in much, much more nefarious ways. And in Malaysia, whether you like it or not, identity politics is still here. And here to stay for a while,” he added.

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