The Star, Saturday October 4, 2008
By JANE RITIKOS
KUALA LUMPUR: The race for the Umno deputy president’s post is hotting up with the possibility of at least five leaders eyeing the position if it falls vacant.
Yesterday, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, 59, became the second leader to openly state his intention to go for the number two post.
The Umno vice-president said: “I am ready to offer myself for the (deputy president) (party) elections if there is a vacancy.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was the first to announce that he will throw his hat in the ring for the post on Thursday. Zahid, 55, is a supreme council member and former Umno Youth chief.
Vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, 61, who has been vocal with his views on the transition of power plan, is widely expected to offer himself for the post of deputy president but he will wait for Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s announcement before making a commitment.
The party is waiting for Abdullah to state whether he would defend his president’s post by Oct 9. The party elections are in March.
The divisional elections begin on Oct 9 and they will start nominating candidates for the supreme council.
Once this happens, it will be official whether the number two post will be up for grabs since the incumbent Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will move up.
Another name that has been mentioned is three-term vice-president and Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, 63.
The senator who did not deny having an interest to join the fray, however, said that out of respect he would wait for Abdullah’s announcement first.
Saying that Abdullah had made a major concession for the party and made a lot of personal and political sacrifice by fast tracking the transition of power more than once, he said: “It is only proper that we give our fullest respect to him, if not it will be perceived that we are pushing him off the cliff. It would not look nice like that. I will wait.”
Asked if he would also throw his hat in the ring, he replied that he was an experienced party and state leader and had been loyal to Umno.
“In 1993, Pak Lah (Abdullah), Najib, Muhyiddin and I went for the vice-presidency. In 1996 and 1999 I was also the vice-president. I am a veteran vice-president. I worked hard every election but to make that announcement now is too early.”
In the last party election in 2004, Mohd Ali was elected party vice-president with the second highest number of votes among the three vice-presidents.
Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad secured the highest votes while Muhyiddin came out third. Muhammad, who had been vice-president since 1993, failed to get re-elected when he took the fourth spot.
Another possible candidate is said to be supreme council member and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim. However, he could not be contacted for comments.