I CAUGHT up with TengkuRazaleigh Hamzah last night in Slim River. He's been on the road non-stop trying to get support from Umno members to nominate him to contest for the top post in the party's December election.
Earlier in the day, Ku Li the Kelantan prince, was in Ipoh, Telok Intan and Bruas. By the time the veteran politician reached Slim River, he looked a bit tired. But this was only for a moment. When he took over the microphone, Ku Li told the small crowd of his plans to get sufficient nominations to qualify to contest the presidential post.
Under Umno's rules, a contender need to get 30 per cent nomination to be able to mount a challenge for the number one post. That works out to at least 58 nominations. Ever since it was introduced many years ago when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was president, no one has succeeded to get the required number.
Then again, no one wanted to challenge him. Only Ku Li mounted a challenge in 1987, and lost. The 30 per cent quota was introduced after this last epic battle.
Ku Li argued that it has been the tradition that the Umno president steps down when there's strong indication that he's no longer respected or the leadership found wanting. He said Tunku Abdul Rahman stepped down after May 13 and passed the baton to Tun Abdul Razak.
When Tun Razak died, Tun Hussein Onn took over. And when Sulaiman Palestin challenged Hussein and lost, Hussein vacated the post soon after on the ground that he was challenged at all. This, the thinking went, reflected the president's view that he was already losing total support from his members, rightly or wrongly.
The same thing happened to Dr Mahathir. After the 1999 general election, and before the 2004 national poll, Dr Mahathir stepped down when his popularity was waning. He passed the baton to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who won the 2004 general election with the best-ever result.
Ku Li argued that the March 8 general election proved Abdullah's decline in popularity and questioned the latter's leadership. The BN, Ku Li said, has never lost five states in a general election, and not able to retain the two-third majority added to BN's poor showing.
Abdullah's supporters in Umno have cried foul of what they perceived to be attempts to chase the party president out of office. This, they said, is not the Umno way.
Ku Li is of the opinion that the Umno president should know when to let go of the post. Contesting the post is not chasing the president out as this is provided for in the party constitution, he argued.
Ku Li said that he shares the same view that the president should not be chased out as this is not the Umno culture. But he also pointed out that he wouldn't want to see an Umno president being 'belittled' by others, the latest being the open show of defiance by SAPP and Datuk Yong Teck Lee. This wouldn't have happened if others had not viewed the Umno leadership as being weak and incapable, Ku Li said.
It was odd to see the former Umno treasurer and Finance Minister speaking to a small crowd of hardly 80 people. I later learnt that Umno members and grassroot leaders were 'advised' not to attend the meeting in the name of 'perpaduan parti' or party unity. It seemed that an sms to this effect was sent out earlier.
I'm told he's also scheduled to meet members and grassroot leaders in Seremban on Wednesday. Will there be another 'advice' for members to stay away?