KUALA LUMPUR: Election preparations and a push for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy to maintain their top two posts in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) will be the focus at the party's general assembly this week.
Polls must be held by August 2018 and the dominant party in Malaysia's ruling coalition says every aspect of the assembly from debates to speeches will be geared towards this.
"The focus will be on GE14 (the 14th general election) and we are basically moulding the spirit among the delegates and the observers to be prepared," said acting deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the UMNO headquarters on Tuesday (Dec 5), a day before the party's wings hold their annual general meetings.
Planning will be crucial with observers saying UMNO is heading into one of its toughest battles yet following the exits of key players including Malaysia's longest serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
UMNO and its coalition Barisan Nasional has seen declining support, first losing its two-third majority in 2008. A new opposition alliance - involving Parti Pribumi Bersatu, a party founded by Mahathir as well as his former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat - could threaten its hopes of wresting it back.
Amir Fareed Rahim, a political analyst with KRA, says the challenge is twofold.
"One, there is an alternative Malay-based party that has been founded by Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin, a former UMNO leader. So they'll be going for the same votes as UMNO's targeting," Amir told Channel NewsAsia.
"And two, the challenge I see is in the fact that there are former UMNO leaders in the opposition who know the mindset of UMNO and therefore their game plan and strategy going forward."
That being said, Amir observes the party is much more "calm" than it has been the past two years.
He says support for the party's number one, Prime Minister Najib, is stronger now than it was in the immediate aftermath of the loss of key players and corruption allegations involving state fund 1MDB.
In fact, delegates are expected to push for the top two posts to go uncontested - a symbolic show of unity and to keep the focus on elections, given party polls will only be held after general elections.
Lobbying for this motion would also shut down rumblings of any rifts between Prime Minister Najib and Zahid, who stepped into the number two role after Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked for speaking out against him.
"I think the conversation will start when the three wings have their general assemblies and during the assembly, I think some of the speakers will put this motion forward," said Amir. "Whether it gets passed or not, that's up to floor."
If it is passed, Prime Minister Najib could potentially serve a full third term as prime minister. The president and deputy president of UMNO typically become the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of a Barisan Nasional government.