By Ahirudin Attan
IT'S now generally accepted that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will announce he is bowing out before his Umno party's internal elections next March.
But that may not be the end of the line for him.
Though the reins at Umno will be smoothly taken up by Deputy Premier Najib Abdul Razak, with International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stepping up to be the next party No. 2, a tight contest is anticipated over at the Youth wing.
And this is where Datuk Seri Abdullah hopes to continue his legacy.
That legacy comes in the form of Oxford-trained Khairy Jamaluddin, his 32-year-old son-in-law.
And what makes the Youth wing's power grab even more interesting to watch is the "proxy war" that will erupt: It will be Mr Khairy Jamaluddin v Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir.
Mr Khairy is the deputy Youth chief, a post he won uncontested in 2004 at the height of Mr Abdullah's power and popularity.
Mr Mukhriz, 47, is the youngest son of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who did not allow his children to contest the party's top posts when he was the premier.
There is no love lost between "Dr M" and his hand-picked successor, Mr Abdullah, or the latter's son-in-law. It was because of Dr M's relentless attacks that Mr Khairy was forced to sell off shares in investment-banking group ECM Libra, which he had acquired in 2006 with the help of Mr Abdullah's close associates.
As recently as a week ago, Mr Khairy was still the favourite to take over Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as Youth chief.
But, after two recent meetings of the Umno Supreme Council, Mr Abdullah reportedly gave in to pressure to hand over power to Datuk Seri Najib, earlier than the original transition date of mid 2010.
With Mr Abdullah on the way out, his son-in-law has lost a great deal of support.
During the last few days of breaking-fast gatherings and at Hari Raya open houses, Umno divisional members were making last-minute changes on who they will nominate.
Mr Khairy's name has travelled further down that list.
The influentual Cheras division, headed by the maverick Syed Ali al-Habshee, has already declared its intention to nominate Mr Najib and Mr Muhyiddin for No. 1 and No. 2.
The implied corollary: Divisions should nominate a Youth leader compatible with Mr Najib, the next leader.
Divisions would not have forgotten how, in the aftermath of the March 8 general elections, Mr Mukhriz had thrown his support behind Mr Najib. At the time, his father, Dr Mahathir, had declared he had lost his faith in Mr Najib over his refusal to challenge Mr Abdullah then.
The divisional leaders have been told that Mr Khairy won't fit the Najib-Muhyiddin template.
Those who blame the ruling coalition's poor showing in the March elections on Mr Abdullah also blameMr Khairy's influence as a factor that severely eroded the PM's popularity in recent years.
On the other hand, Mr Mukhriz's easy-going character is winning him more and more friends.
His quiet ways have long given him solid support from members: He was the Youth exco member who gained the most votes in the last party election.
Still, this isn't a duel between two men: Two others - ex-Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo and Perlis Umno deputy Youth chief Zahidi Zainal Abidin - are also vying for the top Youth post.
Umno's 191 divisions have one month to hold their respective meetings, starting next Thursday, to decide who they want to nominate as their Umno Youth leader.
Each would-be candidate needs 38 nominations to be able to stand for election.
source: Can the PM's son-in-law win?