KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir says he does not intend to continue the political dynasty of his father Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with his entry in the Umno vice-presidency race.
Mukhriz, who is also the Kedah mentri besar, said that he had his own ideas, although he would not negate the good that the former prime minister has done and that he was “excited” to continue what Dr Mahathir has fought for.
“My presence is not to create a dynasty,” Mukhriz said in an interview with Malay-language daily Berita Harian that was published today.
“Coincidentally, I am interested in politics even though my father curbed my interest during the time he was leading the country,” he added.
Political analysts have said that Mukhriz’s bid for ascendancy signalled the desire of Umno’s “old guard” to preserve conservative leanings in the dominant Malay party.
Pro-Mahathir bloggers have begun campaigning for Mukhriz, seeing in him the return to the days where Dr Mahathir ruled with an iron grip and a reversal of policies that purportedly allowed the special position of the Malays to be challenged.
Professor Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, political scientist from Universiti Malaya, noted last Thursday that Mukhriz has yet to show that he is a “man of his own”, and that the 48-year-old is seen instead as living in his father’s shadow.
A victory by Mukhriz in the vice-presidency race would put him on the path to mount a challenge for the number two spot in Umno ahead of the 14th general election, which, if successful, could make him Malaysia’s next deputy prime minister.
Mukhriz, however, told Berita Harian that with his “Berani Berubah” (Dare to change) slogan, he aimed to transform Umno to prevent the decline of public support for the party and for Barisan Nasional (BN).
“If we want transformation, we need to have the courage to do it. I’m afraid that if we do not transform, the people will see that Umno has not changed and public support may erode eventually,” said Mukhriz.
He pointed out that opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) allows room for young leaders.
“These young people have their own appeal and experience because of early exposure, and it is them that we will face later,” he said.
“Hence, if transformation does not happen in BN, do you think we would be able to defend the 133 parliamentary seats that we have today, much less increase them? Like it or not, change has to happen,” added Mukhriz, who is considered “young” at age 48.
BN returned to power in Election 2013, but recorded its worst-ever electoral performance by ceding an additional seven federal seats to PR and by losing the popular vote.
Mukhriz faces five contenders in the crowded race for vice-presidency: powerful incumbents Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal; and aspirants Datuk Seri Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Abdul Isa Samad, both wily old campaigners.
Adding to the uncertainty of the race this time around is the enlarged voter pool.
This year’s election will see some 146,500 delegates directly elect their top leaders after the party amended its constitution to allow more members to vote, up from the previous 2,500.
Nominations for the Umno supreme council elections will be held on September 28 and voting on October 19.