THE number of statements top Umno leaders have been making in the past week or so continue to be analysed and "read" by their friends and foes alike. There's a lot of second guessing going on, and conclusions are being made depending on which side of the fence one is on.
Party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's statement that he and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, have discussed the power transfer issue and come to an understanding is met with a sigh of relief in some quarters, and a flurry of questions in others.
Najib's statement that he's not taking on his boss in the party elections also triggered much debate, especially with whispers that he's aiming for the top spot, and that many of his supporters want him to be more pro-active in going up the party hierarchy.
And when Pak Lah declared that he's ready to defend his post should there be any challenges in the December party election, some people concluded that he's not about to pass the baton to Najib so soon after all.
At this stage, only Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has declared that he's going to challenge Pak Lah. Provided he is able to get the 30 per cent nomination (that's 58 divisions) to qualify to make a serious bid on the presidency, and that is not going to be easy.
Ku Li's backers are going around confidently predicting that the Kelantan prince's bid is gaining momentum. By the time the election is held, they are sure Ku Li will get the required number of nominations to challenge Pak Lah.
While the numbers are being done, matched and doubled-checked, the backers of the main proponents will also be monitoring the branch meetings scheduled to start next month. I'm not sure of the exact number of branches but there's more than 20,000 of them nationwide except in Sarawak. The branches will also be conducting their election of office bearers.
From my understanding, the branches have no direct say in the nominations but they can make their voices heard through other ways. Many branch leaders have met Pak Lah in a series of meetings and briefings on party and national matters. Some may have made their views known during these meetings.
I'm told some branches may pass resolutions outlining their views on the state of the party and the party leadership. Since they cannot nominate, they can make known their preferences via special resolutions which will be forwarded to their divisions which will be having their own elections in October.
Which is why party leaders, especially those in the supreme council, is paying extra attention to branch elections and what messages they want to convey to party bosses. One branch chief told me Umno must go back to basics if it wants to be relevant in national politics.
"Don't underestimate the branches and their voices. We know what and who we want, and we have our ways of getting them heard and delivered," he said. I wonder that means, and sounds like a warning too.