THE special Umno Supreme Council meeting on Friday morning will be a test of resolve for council members. It's obvious that a few top party leaders believe they have a winning compromise to enable Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi remain as president for another year or so, and avoid a potentially embarassing situation in the end-year party poll.
Abdullah and Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak has agreed on a transition plan which will see the former handing over party leadership to Najib in 2010. The plan was approved by the supreme council but not by the members at large.
The grass roots want Abdullah to leave now, having been increasingly unhappy at the manner in which Abdullah handles the party and country. Humiliating defeats at five states in the March 8 general election has led a groundswell to build against the party president and BN chairman.
Abdullah's detractors, which include division chiefs and local warlords, are sure that Abdullah will not even be able to defend his post when the party holds it election in mid-December. His deputy, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak, is seen as a serious challenger who can topple Abdullah in December.
It's partly against this background that the special supreme council meeting is held. Abdullah, sensing the groundswell, could be the first Umno president unable to get sufficient nominations to defend his post. He needs at least 58 of the 191 divisions to nominate him as president.
On the other hand, Najib's supporters have been going around the country persuading divisional chiefs to nominate their boss. From the look of things, and based on rough estimates, Najib may very well command at least 2/3 of the nomination and force the issue on Abdullah.
Vice president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the Pagoh MP, is backing Najib to go for the top post. Muhyiddin himself, his boys are saying, are confident of getting almost 150 (if not more) nominations to bid for the deputy presidency.
All this goes to show that Najib is more than capable of defeating Abdullah when the time comes. My understanding is that Najib prefers the top post be 'handed over' to him instead of him 'taking over' (read wresting it) from Abdullah's hand.
Party insiders say Abdullah wants the council members to amend the transition plan whereby he leaves the party next year, and passes the baton to Najib. No need to contest, no need to campaign, no need to spend money, no need for members to have a say in deciding who should be their party president.
Some cynics even whispered - no need for democracy too!
Abdullah's plea to amend the transition plan is not likely to get unanimous approval from council members. The opposite may be true - they may become even more vocal and critical of Abdullah should an amended transition plan is tabled.
And if Abdullah managed to convince Najib to go with this amendment, Najib himself face the risk of being taken to task by senior party colleagues. Would Najib want to incur the wrath of divisional chiefs by endorsing Abdullah's amended plan?
Najib's supporters are not keen on the plan at all. Siding Abdullah at this point in time is risky business, the supporters say. In fact, many council members also share the same view in private.
Meanwhile, Umno's legal eagles have been poring over the party's Constitution to find provisions which can support the postponement of divisional meetings (due to start on Oct 9) and the general assembly which is scheduled for Dec 16.
One of them told me that this can be done, provided the Registrar of Societies is consulted and his written approval obtained. Some sources said Abdullah's plan includes deferring the general assembly to June next year, a deadline he has set for himself to step down.
I may be wrong, but my understanding is that the last legal date for the general assembly to be held is end of March. Any other time beyond March requires the expressed approval from the RoS.
What some council members find disconcerting is the ease with which the top leaders want to change the ground rules to suit their whims and fancies. This is one area where some heated debate is expected. I won't be surprised if the likes of Muhyiddin and Shafie Afdal, the Semporna MP, were to question the wisdom of the proposal.
Everyone will also be keen to see who will table the proposal - Najib or Abdullah. All eyes will also be on Najib for another reason. At last week's supreme council meeting, it is learnt that Najib, ever the gentleman, stopped further criticisms against Abdullah, much to the chagrin of some council members.
Abdullah himself is not without allies in the council. It will be interesting to see if the same allies will come to his aid at this special meeting. I hope nur Ramadhan will be the guiding light to bring Umno back to its senses.