KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ The governing party of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad opened a soul-searching national convention Wednesday with a call to guard against the growing political influence of Islamic fundamentalists.

In general elections last November, the United Malays National Organization lost many Malay-dominated areas they had controlled for more than five decades _ mainly to the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which tripled its parliamentary seats.

``The just-concluded elections have altered the pattern of political dominance in our country,'' Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in his opening speech.

Abdullah, who is the deputy leader of the UMNO, exhorted state-level leaders not ``to be absorbed in the fantasy of victory'' even though Mahathir's 14-party Barisan National coalition won overall.

``The pattern of voting among the Malay electorate has to be seen as a warning bell that the influence of UMNO has come under challenge,'' he said.

Although Abdullah called for introspection, there is little room for debate within the party. The delegates who speak usually do so to praise the policies of Mahathir, the UMNO president.

There is rarely any open criticism of party policies or its leadership, although privately some UMNO members criticize Mahathir's tight control since he became prime minister in 1981.

Ahead of this week's national convention, Mahathir ordered candidates for vice president and other offices not to campaign or talk to reporters.

Elections are being held for lower-level posts, but Mahathir, Abdullah and other top leaders decided against holding races for president and deputy president and simply granted the incumbents additional three-year terms.

In his speech, Abdullah warned that the Malays, the Southeast Asian nation's majority community, could lose the privileges of rapid development if they became splintered.

``Islam, which has the role of forging unity of the community, has been made a tool by the opposition political groups to shatter unity,'' he said.