by Eileen Ng and Mobhd Farhan Darwis
The Malaysian Insider
October 04, 2013
Umno incumbent vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appears to be gaining ground among the party’s 191 divisions in the run-up to the October 19 party polls, say Umno insiders.
However, the Home Minister’s two running mates, incumbents Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, are believed to be trailing in the six-man race.
The trio is facing a stiff challenge from Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad and former Malacca chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.
The Malaysian Insider understands Ahmad Zahid has garnered pledges of support from about 130 divisions as he travels across the country in his quest to keep his party post. Some 146,000 grassroots delegates will vote for their leaders in the polls, as opposed to the 2,500 delegates that previously voted in the triennial elections.
The hugely popular home minister is admired by Umno members for his stern and decisive stand in tackling current issues like rising crime, which saw him taking on the opposition over the controversial amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA), which provides for detention without trial.
Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed is confident that Ahmad Zahid can retain his post easily, pointing to his dedication.
“In fact, since he took over the Home Ministry portfolio, the rakyat can already evaluate his seriousness in combating crime,” he told The Malaysian Insider, days after publicly endorsing Ahmad Zahid for the post.
Unfortunately, Ahmad Zahid’s popularity does not appear to have rubbed off on his two colleagues.
Party insiders say Hishammuddin has only managed to garner pledges of support from some 80 from divisions, mostly from his own state of Johor.
Umno members are not too happy with Hishammuddin’s performance during his tenure as home minister from 2009 until the 13th general election as he was considered ineffective.
But the son of former party president and prime minister Tun Hussein Onn is still seen as an effective campaigner and has built a network of support from his days as Umno Youth chief.
“He can just about make it as his main competition is Mukhriz,” an Umno lobbyist told The Malaysian Insider, referring to the son of another past party president, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Shafie, meanwhile, is said to be unpopular in his home state of Sabah, which has 25 divisions, due to his long-standing uneasy relationship with Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.
“The Sabah divisions are hesitant to openly voice their support for Shafie for fear of a backlash from Musa,” said a Sabah member.
Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak has indicated he would like the status quo to remain and as such, this might give the incumbents an edge.
Couple the power of incumbency with their ministerial status, and the three do appear to an edge over their challengers.
Two other challengers, Isa Samad and Ali Rustam, might be well liked by the grassroots but age is against them, say party officials.
Isa is 63 while Ali is 64 and this could explain why the two are not gaining many pledges from divisions, except from their home states of Negeri Sembilan and Malacca respectively.
“The vice-president’s posts are seen as second echelon to take over the party leadership in the future. If Najib or Muhyiddin step down four years later, the two might be too old to takeover,” said an Umno warlord, referring to the president and his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Mukhriz appears to be the most serious contender as he has the backing of supporters aligned to his influential father.
But critics say Mukhriz’s drawback is his lack of grassroots support and the perception that he has had it easy on his political journey.
“Senior Umno leaders do no really like him because they feel he passed a major exam without even sitting for it,” a party official said. – October 4, 2013.