Friday, September 26, 2008

JOCELINE TAN: Waiting with bated breath

Friday September 26, 2008

All eyes will be on the special Umno supreme council meeting today which comes after many days of speculation that changes might be made to the leadership succession plan, and even the date of the annual assembly scheduled in December.

THE emergency Umno supreme council meeting today may see an earlier than anticipated transition of power in the ruling party.

The meeting scheduled for this morning was the topic of conversation at every buka puasa function that involved Umno members last night.

Every Umno politician seems to know that the 2010 transition plan might be drastically changed after this meeting.

For a start, they say the Umno general assembly scheduled for December may be postponed to next year.

The postponement also means that the national party elections will be delayed till the new date of the assembly. However, the division level elections, which will take place from Oct 9 to Nov 9, are expected to proceed.

But more momentous than that, they say, is that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to inform the supreme council regarding his position as Umno president.

They feel he may indicate an earlier-than-expected handover.

The original transition plan, which was announced in July, would have seen Abdullah handing over power to his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, by June 2010.

These will be some of the key topics to be discussed and decided upon by the 25-member supreme council, which is Umno’s highest decision-making body.

Today’s meeting is the latest in a fast-moving chain of events in Umno politics since the fasting month began.

Some Umno politicians thought there would be a lull during the Ramadan month but politics seems to have developed a life and will of its own.

After last week’s supreme council meeting, several state Umno chiefs convened at Abdullah’s official residence for a meeting during which they urged Abdullah to get a firmer commitment from Najib regarding the coming party elections.

Some of them were concerned that Najib had, on the one hand, expressed support for the transition plan but on the other, had said he would leave the final decision to delegates attending the Umno division meetings next month.

The meeting took place between 1am and 3am on Tuesday. That same evening, Abdullah and Najib had a four-eyed meeting.

On Wednesday afternoon, Najib chaired a hastily convened Umno management committee meeting, presumably to brief them and get a consensus on what had transpired between him and the Prime Minister.

The management committee, chaired by Najib, comprises key Umno leaders including vice-presidents, secretary-general, treasurer, information chief and leaders of the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings.

Members of the committee have been extremely tight-lipped about the meeting following Najib’s stern warning on confidentiality.

On Thursday morning, another four-eyed meeting took place between Abdullah and Najib. It is understood that the meeting was to convey what transpired among the management committee members.

The supreme council meeting today is the culmination of this string of events.

However, it was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who lit the spark when he urged Abdullah to consider an earlier exit plan. That spark became a flame when Najib announced he would let the division meetings decide on the transition of power.

His statement was widely read as an indication that he would be open to being nominated for the top party post.

However, he has also repeatedly stressed that he is opposed to a “takeover of power” and was looking instead at a “handover of power”.

Umno rank and file have been talking non-stop about today’s event. They are particularly concerned about the proposal to postpone the general assembly and national party elections.

They do not see why the general assembly and elections have to be put off. As it is, many of them are unhappy over the way the original 2010 transition plan was decided by just a few without consulting the larger body of opinions within the party.

Hence, if the supreme council decides to support the postponement, they will have to come up with a solid explanation that will be accepted by the Umno grassroots.

source: Waiting with bated breath
Malaysia Star, Malaysia