By JOCELINE TAN
UMNO circles have been abuzz for weeks that one of Umno’s most likeable politicians, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, would be going for the party’s deputy president post.
And even before that, the talk was that Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, at one time the most powerful man in Selangor, was also being pushed by some quarters to go for it.
Then, of course, there is International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who has been elevated into a class of his own for speaking his mind on the leadership transition plan.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim and Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Ali Rustam are also said to be keen.
But to date, only Zahid, a junior Cabinet Minister, has confirmed his interest. He is now a sizzling topic of conversation at the Raya open houses of Umno politicians.
The number of names being tossed about for this high-level post has had many in Umno shaking their heads in disbelief.
It is all right, they say, to contemplate going for a seat in the 25-person supreme council or even the three vice-presidents’ positions.
However, they say the No. 1 and No. 2 posts are in another realm. They are not exactly for every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Umno politicians have been watching the way the American presidential race is being conducted. They are amazed at the rigour and depth at which both the Democratic and Republican candidates are being scrutinised by the media and American voters as well as the on-going debate over the role of their respective running mates.
“It’s more than just filling the post. It is about playing a real role because Umno has big problems and challenges,” said Pahang Umno information chief Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin.
Some of the would-be candidates cannot even speak proper English or as the Manglish joke goes, their “England is not so powderful”.
Umno politicians are fierce champions of Bahasa Malaysia but they readily admit that English is the international lingua franca and a good command of English is a prerequisite for top leaders of the country.
But the younger set like Kota Belud MP Datuk Rahman Dahlan do not see why the post should be so exclusive.
“Let it be,” he said a la the Beatles.
Muhyiddin was the presumed forerunner in the race. He is a three-term vice-president, has been both a Mentri Besar and Minister and, besides, he lit the spark that led to the power transition being fast-forwarded to 2009.
Still, some thought Zahid jumped the gun in stating his intention even before the Prime Minister had made a stand on his presidency.
Muhammad, for instance, was more seasoned about his interest.
The Rural Development Minister said that he would wait for the Prime Minister to decide before taking the next step.
But there may be powerful reasons for Zahid’s confidence. It is no secret that the loyal circle around the Prime Minister blames Muhyiddin for derailing the 2010 transition plan. Some Umno insiders suggest that this small circle is backing Zahid to take on Muhyiddin. They know Muhyiddin will not be easy to beat but they intend to give him a run for the money.
But Zahid may have inevitably opened the floodgates for the No. 2 post.
The other would-be candidates probably think that if Zahid, at 55 and basically a Johnny-come-lately who has never contested for vice-president, could see himself as the next deputy president and deputy prime minister, then so can they.
The others have worked their way up the ranks and several of them have been Mentri Besar or Minister or both for several terms.
But there is an important reason that Zahid has caused such a stir. The reason is that despite his inexperience, he looks like a serious contender who will give it his all.
Apart from his powerful backers, he is hungry for power, he has the means to campaign and he has quite solid religious credentials.
His parents were religious teachers from a small town in Perak and he was among the first of the Malay affluent class whose home included a private surau. His people skills are first-class even if his English is fractured.
Some think that several of the other candidates on the list would not be able to even secure the 20% or 38 nominations needed to contest the No. 2 post.
But Zahid should not be taken lightly, least of all by the other serious candidate Muhyiddin.
source: Race for Umno deputy president no longer restricted
Malaysia Star, Malaysia