KUALA LUMPUR, 7 Oct 2008: The contest for the top posts in Umno in March 2009 is believed to be unavoidable with attention being focused on the tussle for the deputy presidency.
Besides Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam, who is a vice-president, others vying for the number two post in Umno are Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Pulai Umno division head Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who is also the youngest aspiring contender at the age of 42.
Three others who are said to be eyeing the post are vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhamad Taib and Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim.
Although many feel that every Umno member has the right to contest, there are others who feel that the candidates must evaluate their own capability because the Umno deputy president, by convention, is also the deputy prime minister.
The final decision, however, lies with the 191 Umno divisions that will hold their delegates conference beginning 9 Oct, as the prospective candidates must secure nominations from at least 38 divisions, or 20% of the total number of divisions, to be eligible to contest.
In view of this, political observer Prof Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain is certain that only one or two will succeed in getting the nomination quota to qualify for the contest.
“The grassroots have already made [their] decision on their choice of candidates, on which combination they would choose, so the entry of new candidates will not influence them,” said the Public Administration and Law Faculty lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia.
He expects the combination of Najib and Muhyiddin to be the choice of most of the divisions for the posts of president and deputy president.
However, he did not rule out the possibility of a contest for the number two post.
“I’m not denying that Muhyiddin will face a stiff challenge because the new candidates, such as Zahid, will get the votes of the young generation. For the veterans, they know the struggles of the old leaders such as Muhyiddin and appreciate their contributions.”
Ahmad Atory thinks that contest for the two top posts should be avoided as Umno is now in the process of rehabilitation and needs everyone to be united.
“I feel the [candidates] should give their support to Najib and Muhyiddin because it was on their initiatives that the power transition process [was] speeded up. Furthermore, Umno is now in the process of rehabilitation,” he said.
Ahmad Atory also did not rule out the possibility of a contest for the Umno presidency, if Najib fails to make the right choice for his right-hand man.
There could be validity to his prediction as talks at the grassroots level indicate that many supporters of Gua Musang Umno head, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, want Muhyiddin, who has held the post of vice-president for three terms, to be elevated to the number two post.
In fact, before the Umno top leadership decided to speed up the power transition from Abdullah to Najib, it was widely rumoured that the choice for the presidency and deputy presidency was the Tengku Razaleigh and Muhyiddin combination.
Ahmad Atory’s view was also shared by another political analyst who thinks that the men holding the number one and number two posts must be compatible.
“To me, there’s no need for a team. Whoever is chosen by the grassroots should be accepted by the number one and there must be an effort to work together by placing the party before personal interest,” said Prof Dr Nik Anwar Nik Mahmud from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
Although some people believe that most of the divisions have long made their choice, Nik Anwar is of the view that it is still not too late for the divisions to reconsider their choice, taking into consideration the entry of new and young candidates.
What is important is that the divisions must ensure that the candidates chosen must have the capability to rehabilitate Umno, said the lecturer with the Department of Political History and Strategic Studies, UKM.
“Umno’s original struggle was to champion the cause of the Malays and in the present context, the leaders must have the wisdom to balance between the cause of the Malays and the non-Malays so that Umno will not be rejected by the non-Malays,” he said.
“Umno must also ensure that the leaders chosen are free of corruption, ascertain that these leaders have no intention of using the party to accumulate wealth. This is the reason for the Malays to despise Umno,” he added. — Bernama