IT WAS UMNO Johor which first mooted the idea that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi pass the baton to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to pave the way for a smooth transition of power under what is referred to as the Umno 'pelan peralihan.'
And if I recall correctly, it was Umno vice president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who came up with the idea at an Umno Johor Liaison Committee meeting a couple of months ago. This was duly accepted by the state committee, which then was conveyed to the party president at a special meeting held in Johor Baru about a week later.
Seen from that perspective, and following Pak Lah's announcement a few days ago, the 'pelan peralihan' is set to take place in June 2010. Which, also seen from that perspective, should calm the party and make everyone get down to serious business.
The reaction to the announcement has not been a unanimous agreement though. This is understandable, because this is an election year and both the number one and two must first of all clear the hurdle of retaining their posts.
Despite the announcement and the reported show of support from various quarters in and outside Umno, the spotlight would still be on Pak Lah and Najib. And in the context of the December party poll, the spotlight also falls on Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Muhyiddin.
The Kelantan prince has been criss-crossing the country to whip up support after declaring that he intends to challenge Pak Lah for the top post. He has been having meetings to try and get at least 58 nominations to qualify to contest.
After the announcement, there is still much whispers on the speculated and unconfirmed pact between Najib and Muhyiddin. The two was said to team up as they try to wrest the leadership from Pak Lah, whom many had called to step down after the Barisan Nasional's below-par showing at the March 8 general election.
Some political observers said Pak Lah has 'checkmated' the move, forcing Najib (if indeed he had a pact with Muhyiddin) to ditch Muhyiddin, who was on official duties in Japan when the Supreme Council met and endorsed the 'pelan peralihan.' Bear in mind, it was Muhyiddin, and Umno Johor, that first came up with the 'pelan peralihan.'
Muhyiddin has not made a full statement of what his plans will be, except to say that the two-year wait is too long. He fears that Najib may not have sufficient time to consolidate his position and the party after taking over and to face the 13th general election. Muhyiddin is not alone with this view.
Muhyiddin will have to tread carefully, especially after giving the impression that he was seeking a higher position than that of a vice president. From the party's legal perspective, Muhyiddin cannot but support the announced 'pelan peralihan' because it has already been endorsed by the supreme council.
Muhyiddin would breach party discipline if he is to 'disagree' with the supreme council's decision. But he is known to be a party man, and had always fallen in line when the time comes. But this is not an ordinary challenge for Muhyiddin, who may feel that the time is ripe for him to move up and take on bigger responsibilities.
As for Ku Li, the seasoned campaigner did try to win the presidency once before, in 1987 to be exact. He lost to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by 43 votes and left the party to form Semangat 46. Having buried the hatchet with Dr Mahathir, Ku Li returned to Umno and disbanded Semangat 46.
It's not yet plain sailing for Pak Lah and Najib though. The Umno branches start their annual general meetings on July 17 to be followed by divisional meetings in October. I'm quite sure that Pak Lah and Najib, or their boys, will have a plan already in place to ensure that they get the required number of nominations to retain their posts.
The supreme council did not issue any instruction to stop anyone from contesting the top two posts. But in politics, anything can happen and some observers feel that 'it's not over till it's over.'