Beh Lih Yi | Oct 3, 08 4:33pm
Umno supreme council member Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s move to contest for the party’s deputy president’s post at the party polls next year will be a test of sorts for the ruling party, which is attempting a crucial leadership transition exercise.
Zahid (below), 55, also a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, confirmed yesterday that he will be vying for the Umno No 2 post at the elections in March next year.
His announcement came as a surprise to many as it is rare for a relatively juniour leader to contest the deputy presidency and come out victorious.
Under convention, the post is usually be helmed by one of the three elected vice-presidents - the number 3 in the party’s hierarchical ladder.
Embattled Umno president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is widely expected to step down before or during the party polls in March and hand over the reins to his deputy Najib Abdul Razak.
Analyst Khoo Kay Peng views Zahid’s bid as an ‘eye-opener’ for the party and a yardstick on whether Umno delegates are ready to break away from convention during the polls.
"It is a test for Umno whether there is any appetite within the party to go for a change in wanting new blood.
"However, I don’t think there will be a big impact as I don’t think he will win. The Umno election is all about hierarchy and power [...] a junior leader like him will not have enough firepower to win the race," claimed Khoo.
Najib-Zahid team a possibility
Nevertheless, he expected the announcement from Zahid - the first to confirm his intention for the number 2 post - to trigger more such announcements from other aspiring candidates.
Zahid has cited the current political scenario affecting the party and demands from supporters for him to join forces with Najib to lead the party as the reasons behind his decision.
Umno vice-president Muhyiddin Yassin, who is widely speculated to be eyeing the same post, said he will not make any announcement until Abdullah decides on whether the he is seeking re-election as party president.
Abdullah has said he will announce his decision before the party’s divisional meetings begin on Oct 9.
Party grassroots generally see a Najib-Muhyiddin team as their natural choice to take over the party when Abdullah steps down but some political observers have not ruled out the possibility of a Najib-Zahid team.
Their argument is that Zahid may be roped in to serve as a check on Muhyiddin’s influence as Muhyiddin - the most senior Umno vice-president - is seen by Najib’s camp as a formidable rival.
Political observer Wong Chin Huat said he would not rule out the possibility of a Najib-Zahid combination.
"Najib’s calculation is that if Muhyiddin (right) is the deputy, he (Najib) may not be able to hold more than one term of the premiership because Muhyiddin would by then impatient and would want to go for the top post," he said.
Najib is turns 55 this year while Muhyiddin is 61.
Najib won’t endorse
The Najib-Zahid combination however may come at the expense of Najib as it may push Muhyiddin to join forces with Umno presidency aspirant Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, cautioned Wong.
The analyst stressed that he was of the view that Najib would not openly endorse or team up with any deputy presidency candidate unless he (Najib) himself was in for a tough fight.
Zahid is Najib’s (left) ex-political secretary and former Umno Youth chief in 1998 when ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from government.
He was once seen as a close ally of Anwar especially after he protested the decision to sack Anwar which subsequently resulted in him being detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
He returned to Umno’s folds later and was made a deputy minister after the 2004 general elections and appointed as a full cabinet minister after the last general election on March 8.