Political Party Contests Are No Beauty Pageants

Recently we find leaders from Barisan National announcing their intentions on contesting for top party posts such as Deputy President, Vice President, Youth Chief and etc.

The Gerakan and UMNO Contestants

Gerakan’s incumbent President Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon has  managed to keep his seat uncontested. However, two candidates Datuk Chang Ko Youn (Perak Gerakan chairman) and young lawyer Ma Woei Chyi (former Federal Territory youth chief) shall take on each other for the Deputy President post.

As for UMNO, there are currently two leaders who have openly offered to contest for the second highest rank of the party seats; Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Ali Rustam. The widely speculated candidate for this post which is Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin chose to keep things under wraps till the President declares his status after the Aidilfitri celebrations.

A few people were bewildered by the meaning of these announcements and asked me what were the significance of these political contestations. Here, I shall try to elaborate a little bit on this topic and hopefully it will make sense to those interested on the relevance of this major political party event.

Significance of Party Polls

Basically, political parties are mediators between the public citizens and government. As the agents of democracy and representation, it enables  people to elect their representatives to be the voice of their needs and interests in the political system. Members of a political party will vote for their preferred leaders in the organization during party polls which is held for every 3 to 5 years. These chosen leaders are then the ones who will lead the government IF that particular party wins the majority in the country’s General Elections. Compared to the General or by-elections which involves competition among representatives from different political parties and coalitions, a Political Party Election is a competition among leaders within that Party.

UMNO’s Party Polls Procedure

The UMNO’s party poll is organised from all levels of its structure starting from its thousands of Branches, 191 Divisions  from all over the country and finally at the central stage during its General Assembly in March 2009. The UMNO branches are already done and over with it in last September and next the UMNO Divisions meetings will commence by 9th of October 2008. It is only by the end of these Division meetings that we will find out who are the eligible political ‘gladiators’  contesting for the party’s higher echelon posts in the UMNO General Assembly next year.

Candidature Requirement

Candidates who announce to contest for a seat does not necessarily mean that they will be able to compete later. To be eligible, they would have to acquire certain percentages of nomination fulfilling quotas depending on the posts sought for.These quota rates according to the UMNO Party Constitution are as below:

1. President 30%

2. Deputy President 20%

3. Vice President 10%

These percentages of nomination applies to the nominations or proposals from the 191 existing UMNO Divisions from the whole country. For example, if Mamat bin Busu wants to contest for the Presidency, he would need support from at least 58 of those 191 UMNO Divisions. Unless Mamat is really well known for his credibility and performance as a leader, then probably he would have to really strategize to win the next party elections.

Presidency Challenge Leads To Party Break-Ups?

The Presidency post is usually left unopposed to avoid breakage of any probable fissures in the party like what happened in 1988. Nevertheless history has proven that attempts of challenging a President post did not necessarily lead to UMNO’s split because the competition between Dr. Mahathir and Tengku Razali was not the first  incident ever took place in UMNO. Previously, Tun Hussien Onn was challenged by Hj. Sulaiman Palestin but it did not threaten the party’s cohesion. It seems that divisions amongst members of a party are more prone to occur if there is a major conflict between two strong political personalities like Dr. Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. Even though the party did not really break up but the sense of antagonism among the members obviously permeated and its collateral damage continues till this day.


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