DATUK Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's decision to "stand and fight" has begun in earnest. Yesterday, the Umno president and PM was in Kelantan to break fast and meet members of the Kelantan Umno Liaison Committee.
On Sunday, Abdullah was in Johor Baru. He'll be all over the country to meet as many Umno division chiefs as possible to tell his side of the story, ie, to try and defend his post as Umno's number one chief.
Many senior members of the supreme council have told him to forget the idea of defending his post in the December party elections. In fact, many of them told him to step down and pass the baton to his deputy, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak, ahead of the transition plan.
Under the plan, Abdullah is supposed to quit in June 2010 and pass the leadership to Najib. Many council members, grassroot leaders and ordinary members believe that 2010 is too late and could spell big problems for Umno and the Barisan Nasional come the next general election.
At the last council meeting, Abdullah was told to step aside and avoid a potentially-embarassing contest in December. Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has offered himself to be nominated, and expressed confidence that he would get the 30 per cent quota needed to qualify to challenge for the post (ie at least 58 nominations out of 191).
Talk is widespread that Abdullah won't be able to get sufficient nominations to contest. Grassroot leaders have voiced open endorsement for Najib, with vice president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the most popular choice for the deputy's post.
Hence, it's all in the numbers. As the incumbent, and under normal circumstances, Abdullah should have no problem in getting more than ample nominations. But this time around, the tide is seen to be not with him.
Council members told him he may not qualify to contest, basing their opinion on the feedback obtained from division chiefs all over the country. The BN/Umno defeat in five states in the March 8 election and Abdullah's leadership (or lack of it) style are often quoted as the main reasons for the decline in Abdullah's popularity.
Abdullah has ignored the warning from council members and has decided to meet as many divisional chiefs as possible before divisional meeting starts on Oct 9. Abdullah's plan is simple and direct. He has also told state chiefs, whom he appointed, to play their part in ensuring he gets sufficient nominations.
This, I'm told, has put the state chiefs in an awkward position. They can lay out the plans to division chiefs, but this does not mean the lower chiefs will listen and heed the plan. The lower chiefs, it now appears, have a mind of their own and have often voiced their displeasure with Abdullah.
Which explains why Abdullah is starting to count the numbers - those for him, and otherwise.
Questions: Can Abdullah truly influence state chiefs? Can state chiefs then influence the divisional and lower chiefs? How much can these chiefs withstand the pressure (and temptations) that are sure to come between now and their own divisional meetings?