The top three positions in Umno will not be contested at its internal polls next year, in a move to stamp out infighting ahead of a crucial general election due by August.
A resolution that Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi be returned as the ruling party's president and deputy president, respectively, without contest was unanimously agreed by the general assembly yesterday.
Members of Umno's highest decision making body, the Supreme Council, this week agreed to also have a no-contest for one of the three vice-president (VP) posts, protecting the position of Mr Hishammuddin Hussein.
"We took the decision... to accept the senior vice-presidency should be given to Mr Hishammuddin," Mr Zahid said at a press conference after the resolution of no-contest for the top two posts was passed, with Mr Hishammuddin by his side.
Although there was no formal resolution for one of the three VP posts to be earmarked for Defence Minister Hishammuddin, the proposal by members of the Supreme Council was received with overwhelming approval by delegates when it was raised during the assembly's debates.
The Straits Times understands the proposal for the no-contest for the top three posts was applauded by delegates who attended the closed-door presidential address by Mr Najib on Tuesday.
While the top two posts have seen no-contests in past years, a move to stop a contest for any of the VP posts has never been carried out before.
Without full adoption by the whole party, though, the agreement on the VP post could be viewed as an informal deal.
Mr Hishammuddin told reporters: "I feel relieved and proud... that the leadership line-up has... the blessing of the grassroots."
In Umno's internal vote in 2013, Mr Zahid came in first in the VP race, while Mr Hishammuddin - Mr Najib's cousin - scraped through to defend one of three vice-presidencies.
The third VP, Mr Shafie Apdal, left the party last year after disagreements over the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Home Affairs Minister Zahid rose to become acting deputy president after Mr Najib sacked his then deputy Muhyiddin Yassin last year due to the 1MDB fallout.
Mr Hishammuddin is thus the only Umno VP left.
The move yesterday ringfences Mr Najib and his two top lieutenants amid reports of intense jockeying for better positions in the Umno polls, a tussle which could intensify if he fails to win a resounding mandate at the general election.