TWO political announcements in the past few days involving the Umno top brass caught my eyes. I thought I would let it pass without commenting but they are just too interesting not to put my two-sens worth.
First was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who made known his decision not to seek higher office in Umno via the party poll in December. Rather, the incumbent VP prefers to defend his seat, and declares support for the transition plan endorsed by the supreme council.
Second was Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz's declaration that she too has her own transition plan for Wanita Umno. She said she will pass the baton to her current deputy, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil, next year, thus ending any talk of anyone challenging her for the top Wanita post. Smart, I say!
Muhyiddin's announcement came as a blow to quite a number of people who were encouraged by his earlier statements about reforms in Umno. Many grassroot leaders, who may not figure in the actual voting come December, were rooting for him to challenge for one of the top two posts.
There was much speculation about him teaming up with Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak to wrest control of the party. Word on the ground was that they would be a force to be reckoned with, and that the two had actually shaken hands on this understanding.
The International Trade and Industry Minister must have thought long and deep before making his decision. Coming after his bold statements that Umno must change if it wants to continue to be relevant, Muhyiddin had raised many people's hope that he would buck the trend and pit himself at least for the number two seat (provided Najib takes on Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi).
Many political observers and party insiders viewed Muhyiddin as a reformist after Umno fared badly in the March 8 general election, and even now there are still voices urging him to reconsider and make a bid for one of the top two posts.
Muhyiddin must have swallowed hard before making his call. He's no fool. For many people outside Umno, it would look relatively easy to knock Pak Lah or Najib from the lofty perch. But the 2,000-odd voting delegates in December won't be swayed by sentiments and promises of reforms, and Muhyiddin must be well aware of that.
Muhyiddin will be up against a number of other hopefuls, a few of whom are said to be close to the party president, or claim to be the favourite of the president. Datuk Khalid Nordin is said to be one of them. This can be tough for Muhyiddin because he's up against a fellow Johorean.
That Muhyiddin was seen to be criticial of the party leadership with his frequent calls for quick changes in party leadership would not have endeared him to his boss. It remains to be seen how this would affect the votes come December.
But another school of thought argued that by being seen to be close to the party boss may not necessarily be helpful! Citing Pak Lah's decline in popularity, the proponents said this would also rub off on those close to him.
My question is this - if at all there was an understanding between Muhyiddin and Najib, would the latter quietly send word to delegates to rally behind the former and ensure the man from Pagoh gets the highest vote?
Under the circumstances, Muhyiddin must secure the top spot in the VP line up if he is to justify selection by Najib to be his deputy when the transition plan is activated in 2010.
But Muhyiddin knows that even being the most senior VP is no guarantee that he would automatically be picked by Najib to be the next in line. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was not the most senior VP when Tun Hussein Onn chose him to be his deputy in the early '80s!
Sabah Umno too feels that they should have a man in the VP line-up. It's about time, they say. And Datuk Shafie Afdal looks set to be their candidate since Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman has decided not to contest.
I heard stories that Khalid, Shafie and Malacca Chief Minister Tan Sri Mohd Ali Rustam are the front runners. Even Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein Onn too may fall. All the aspirants know that they really have a tough battle ahead. It's a big field and many a deal is brokered and broken between now and December.
As for Rafidah, her move may have caught a number of people by surprise. By introducing her transition plan, the Umno Iron Lady gets to keep her post for one more year and thwart whatever plans being hatched to oust her from the post she has held for ages.
In the coffee houses and beauty salons, there was talk that Sharizat would team up with former Puteri Chief Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, and make a bid for the Women Wing's leadership. Can the two work together, I was asked.
Shahrizat, who was beated by PKR'a Nurul Izzah Anwar in Lembah Pantai, ia in the Prime Minister's Department with a ministerial rank as advisor on women affairs. Rafidah, despite retaining her Kuala Kangsar seat, found no place in Pak Lah's Cabinet.
Azalina, who nurtured Puteri Umno and then pass it to Datuk Noraini Ahmad, have not been able to get a toe in at the Wanita level. The Tourism Minister will need to get a seat within the Wanita hierarchy if she is to be a heavyweight in the party in the future. That's how it had always been for Umno.
The way I see it, the Wanita wing could do with some fresh ideas. With the transition plan being put in place at the highest level in the party, a change at the Wanita woould not be unwelcomed.