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Umno general assembly and polls postponed to March 2009 (Updated)

Corrected on 26 Sept 2008 at 9.20pm

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 Sept 2008: The Umno supreme council has postponed the party’s general assembly and its polls from December 2008 to March 2009.

The move is to facilitate an early transition of power from party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak ahead of the original June 2010 schedule.

Abdullah also said he would announce whether or not he would defend the president’s post before 9 Oct, when the Umno divisions begin their meetings for a month.

“I will announce my decision before the divisions start meeting. It will be my decision to contest or not, you can go on guessing but the decision will be mine,” he said at a press conference after an emergency supreme council meeting at the Umno headquarters this morning.

He said the council had agreed that the division meetings should proceed as planned since preparations have already been made.

The council also endorsed the postponement of the party general assembly and polls to March as a way to bring forward the transition of power from Abdullah to Najib.

Abdullah said he would use the interim time to complete his work, adding that this decision had been made by him and Najib.

He declined to answer specifically when asked if he would hand over the reins to Najib in March.

Supreme council leaders interviewed later said it was clear that Abdullah had abandoned the original June 2010 deadline.

But whether that meant he would quit leading Umno in March would depend on his announcement in the coming days before the division meetings start.

International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is Umno vice-president and has been the most vocal council member in asking Abdullah to step down before June 2010, said March appeared to be the new deadline for the transition of power.

“You can analyse what it means, but as far as I’m concerned, maybe that is the new deadline being set. He has taken into account the whole situation. He will make an announcement before the division meeting and this will give the division leaders a clear signal from the president whether he will defend his post or not,” Muhyiddin told reporters after the meeting.

Umno Information Chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib said although Abdullah was not specific in fixing a new date for the transition, his announcement in the coming days will provide a clear indication.

“The president has his ears to the ground and he knows what people are saying, and he has his own way of doing things. Although he didn’t say exactly when the transition would take place, his announcement before the division meetings will be related to that,” Muhammad said.

Najib, who was asked whether the new scenario meant that Abdullah would resign in March, said the matter would be addressed later.

The deputy party president said that the postponement was good for the party as it “maintained tradition” and took the views of party members into account.

The various supreme council members also weighed in on the postponement and transition of power. Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ali Rustam said the March date would be acceptable to the divisions as their meeting would not be affected. He also said the decision was unanimously endorsed by all supreme council members.

Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said it was evident that Abdullah would have to leave sooner than 2010. “He said this is to facilitate an earlier transition so take it as that, his statement was very clear,” she said.

Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister and Umno supreme council member Datuk Shahrir Samad said the supreme council members did not wish to prolong the argument over the transition deadline.

(Corrected) He said none of them wanted a confrontation or to make is an issue.

He added that if Abdullah were to decide that he would not campaign to be nominated as president, then it would be consistent with the plan to hand over the reins to Najib.

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