AMIDST the barbs that were traded over the weekend, some behind-the-scene manouvering may have gone unnoticed. In fact, these hush-hush caucuses are expected to continue before the next round of Umno divisional meetings.
As widely expected, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, Datuk Shafie Afdal, Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Khaled Nordin, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Datuk Sharizat Abd Jalil and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir have qualified to contest for their respective posts.
After two weekends of divisional meeting, these are the frontrunners. They shuld be happy for securing what some people view as an early justification of their inclusion in the list of qualifiers, and would serve as a strong boost to their confidence as the big battle looms.
Among the qualifiers, Sharizat, with 40 nominations, one more than the required number, may face with a small dilemma. Would she accept the nominations and challenge her Wanita boss, Rafidah, despite the former's declaration that she's quite happy to wait for the post be handed to her next year, in accordance with the movement's transition plan?
That there are are 40 wanita divisions who dared to show their preferred choice, is a tell-tale by itself. It showed that every one of three divisions which had held their general meetings thus far, Sharizat scored one. Of the 120 divisions which had already met, Sharizat gets one-third.
I imagine that the bigger dilemma is with Rafidah. Would she stick to her guns and continue to defend her post? Or would she rather pass the baton now, having seen that she no longer enjoy the full support of the movement?
The other front runners, with the notable exception of Najib, the incoming president and Prime Minister-in-Waiting, aren't really out of the woods yet. There's now talk and whispers that these individuals should't get a monopoly of the nominations. Let's give the others a chance too, the hush-hush campaigners are saying.
In this case, the race for the deputy president's post is the main target. Muhyiddin, seen as a vocal critic of his party and Cabinet boss, is the target. While he may have secured passage to contest with 44 of the 64 divisions which have already met, attempts are being made to get the other contenders to "catch up."
One needs 39 nominations to qualify. Thus far, Malacca Chief Minister and incumbent vice president Datuk Mohd Ali Rustam, have garnered 12 and Umno Information Chief and Rural Development Minister, Senator Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib, pulled eight.
The Muhyiddin detractors, Umno insiders said, are pooling their efforts to make sure than Ali rather than Muhammad, get sufficient nominations so as to give Muhyiddin a run for his money. Many Umno leaders know that Muhyiddin is better positioned to help Najib in running the party and country, but this has not deterred them from trying their best.
Muhyiddin has also been singled out by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for going against the wishes and decision of the party supreme council, which had endorsed the transition plan that Najib would take over from Abdullah in March next year.
In fact, Abdullah also took to task former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has been openly showing support and preference for Najib and Muhyiddin. The three of them appeared cheerfully at a Hari Raya open house a week ago, as a signal to Umno members that the incoming new leaders of Umno are on the same page and taking the same route to restore party unity and work towards consolidation.
On Muhyiddin, Abdullah had this to say (according to press reports): "Is he so impatient to become DPM? That is, if he gets the support...is he trying to stop me from making reforms?" Abdullah is also of the view that there are attempts to get him to quit in December, instead of in March as per the transition plan.
On Dr Mahathir, Abdullah said: "Who is he? He has left Umno but he still issues orders to members of Umno. The party does not need to take orders from anyone who is no longer a member of the party."
The Abdullah-Dr Mahathir spat has not shown any sign of abating. In fact, it is no longer a spat, having escalated to an open political battle with consequences far and wide, viewed and scrutinised across the world.
The front runners will be among the first to agree that getting the required nominations is only the half the battle. The real combat will be during the assembly. This is when delegates pick and choose from the menu then. And as menu goes, there will be a price to pay, and priced items don't come cheap.
In the coming week, the catch-up guys will up the work rate and criss-cross the country again. Work, be they in the Cabinet or State, will take a back seat. Political survival and self preservation will be the order of the day
Which leads me to ask Datuk Shahrir Samad - how would this affect efficiency as he sees it? I read somewhere that Shahrir had scoffed at Muhyiddin's earlier comments that the long campaign period would be counter-productive because the possibility of character assassination (fitnah) and undermining would intensify.
Perhaps Shahrir can enlighten us. Wouldn't all this criss-crossing the country in trying to secure nominations not affect work? Should these people also resign, as he had suggested to Muhyiddin?
Whatever the case may be, let's see how the catch-up game is going to be played. There will be more hush-hush caucuses. There will also be more barbs traded. You and I know there will be.