June 30, 2018 / 6:08 PM / 21 days ago

Malaysia's former ruling party picks old hand as new president

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s former ruling party picked a familiar face as its new leader on Saturday, as they grapple with a spectacular defeat in a May general election that pushed them from power after more than 60 years.

FILE PHOTO: Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of Malaysia speaks during a high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants at the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) elected Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, formerly deputy premier under prime minister Najib Razak who was voted out of office amid anger over a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and an unpopular consumption tax.

Ahmad Zahid is popular among grassroots members but his position as part of the old guard tainted by the 1MDB scandal may do little to rebuild trust with voters.

“The people have high hopes that UMNO will continue to fight for the interests of religion, race and the country,” Ahmad Zahid said in a statement after he was declared the new party leader.

Ahmad Zahid, who was made acting party head after Najib quit the post last month, takes over at a time of intense scrutiny by the public and the authorities.

On Friday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) froze several bank accounts linked to UMNO as part of their investigations into 1MDB.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told Reuters in June that UMNO was not the only political party to have received 1MDB funds.

Several UMNO lawmakers have quit the party since the election, and it has been abandoned by most of its coalition partners.

U.S. authorities say more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and that nearly $700 million from the fund was diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Najib, who has been barred from leaving the country and questioned by the MACC, denies wrongdoing and says the $700 million was a donation from the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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