Umno leaders see new voting system as way forward

Umno assembly. – Reuters pic
Umno assembly. – Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — As the polls in the biggest political party of the Malays heat up, Umno gets ready to roll-out a new approach in electing office bearers at its divisions and the Supreme Council.

Party stalwarts believe the new approach promotes greater voice for its grassroots members, greater transparency and fairness, and will help rebuild Umno’s power base.

In brief, it will help the party realise the political transformation introduced by its president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

With the branch meetings to be concluded by tomorrow, it will be followed by the divisional meetings that for the first time will involve a big number of delegates to elect the division office bearers and Supreme Council line up.

And starting today the ambitious members who plan to scale the party ranks can register to contest for any position. All they have to do is to hand over their nomination forms for the Wanita, Pemuda, Puteri wings and Supreme Council positions before 5 pm on September 21.

The new party polling system has opened the doors for anyone registered as a party member for at least one term (three years) to contest at the divisional level. As for the Supreme Council — members, vice presidents, deputy president and even the president — the minimum requirement is that they have to be division office bearers for at least one term (three years).

The approach taken this time adopts the Electoral College system used in the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, one may ask how is this system going to be implemented and how it could contribute to greater democracy and transparency within party?

Wanita Umno Information Chief Datuk Hamidah Osman provided some insights on the workings of this new party poll system with one of its significant feature being the direct involvement of 146,500 delegates in the divisional and Supreme Council elections.

Umno has 3.3 million members. Delegates from the branches who previously could only choose division office bearers, now have the liberty to choose leaders up to the Supreme Council. And under the previous system, only 2,500 delegates were eligible to choose the party’s top line up.

“In fact under the new party constitution, we have a more open and not so rigid polling system... for example previously there were some hurdles in seeking nomination at the divisional or Supreme Council level. Now there is no such thing, all that is needed is the required duration of membership and a position at the divisional level,” she said in an interview with Bernama recently.

Before the party’s constitution was amended in 2009, anyone vying for the party’s top positions have to muster enough nomination from the 191 Umno divisions. For example, for the president’s post one has to garner 30 percent of the nominations or from 57 of the divisions, deputy president (20 per cent or 38 divisions), vice president (10 per cent or 19 divisions), MT members (5 per cent or 10 divisions), Youth and Wanita Chief (each 20 per cent or 38 divisions) and Puteri head one percent or two divisions.

Hamidah, who would be defending the Gopeng Division Wanita Head’s post in the upcoming party election, said about 80,000 delegates of the wing would meet simultaneously at their respective divisions on October 12. And each one of them will be given two ballot papers to elect the wing’s divisional and national office bearers. Wanita Umno has 1.3 million members.

The first ballot paper is to elect the division’s Wanita chief, deputy and the Exco line while the other ballot paper is to elect the wing’s office bearers at the national level. She explained that the elected Wanita, Youth and Puteri office bearers along with branch heads and two chosen delegates from the branches would then proceed to elect divisional office bearers on October 19.

“At the divisional meeting, they will elect the respective divisions’ office bearers and the Supreme Council members. They will be given one ballot paper to choose the division head, the deputy and committee members and another ballot paper to elect the party president, deputy president, vice presidents and Supreme Council members,” she said.

Hamidah noted that the counting of the ballots would be conducted at the divisional level while the Umno headquarters would tally the votes and announce the results. Each division is taken into account as one vote and therefore any winner could only receive a maximum of 191 votes unlike thousands of votes previously. “Say for example Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil gets 500 votes and her challenger gets 300 votes, it will be considered as one vote for Shahrizat,” she said. Hamidah pointed out for the race involving many candidates, for example the 25 Supreme Council member positions, then the delegates with the highest votes or popular votes would be taken into consideration in deciding the winners.

“We will be having returning officers who will be reporting on the winners and we expect the results to be known within 24 hours. Recount is also conducted at the respective divisions.”

Hamidah noted that this election method is more transparent and is capable of eliminating money politics. She pointed out if previously the Wanita Umno leadership was chosen by between 800 and 1,500 delegates, now they are chosen by 80,000 delegates.This means it is next to impossible to buy the votes from so many people.

“Can you pay the 80,000 delegates (for Wanita) and 146,500 delegates at the Supreme Council level. Who can afford to pay? So, definitely there is greater transparency this time around,” she said. “In a nutshell, this means that the voice of the grassroots will be heard and their aspirations reflected on the party’s leadership,” she added. — Bernama