IN THE next few months many Cabinet Ministers from Umno will be very busy - not just with official ministerial functions and meetings and seminars, but with campaigning to ensure their political preservation in what could be one of the most interesting contests in years.
I don't envy the diary-keepers of these ministers. Menteris Besar are no exception too, as do Chief Ministers. The PAs (personal assistants) and secretaries will have to juggle their bosses' time so that they can do their official duties and have some time to meet delegates for the March annual general assembly.
This diary juggling act will start immediately. It'll last between now and March when party elections are held. It's the longest-ever campaign period, longer than the one set for the general election even.
A few weeks ago, a Cabinet minister suggested that some people contesting in the Umno elections should perhaps leave the Cabinet or take leave if they are unable to cope with such a heavy diary. Easier said than done, this.
Looking at the long list of contestants for the various posts, I doubt if the Cabinet can have any substantial meetings because a good number of the Umno ministers are involved. Even deputy ministers are bidding for some seats, and they all are in it to position themselves higher in the food chain.
There are three bidders for the deputy president's post and eight vying for three vice presidential seats. Six of them are Cabinet members. The contestants could also be nine if another aspirant qualify should he get one more nomination to qualify.
Four other divisions have yet to stage their meetings.
Contestants for all posts are heavyweights in their own ways, and believe they stand as good a chance as the next fellow. They enter the ring knowing they have to fight for every vote and knows their targets well.
The elder ones are not going to walk away and allow the young Turks to take over without a fight. I expect the months ahead to be potentially bruising.
All eyes will be on the contest for the post of Deputy President. Pagoh MP Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin garnered the most number of nominations (92), having qualified very early during the divisional meetings.
His opponents, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib (Selangor liaison chief with 45 nominations) and Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (liaison chief Malacca and Chief Minister with 46 nominations) had to wait till the last lap of divisional meetings to qualify to contest.
Muhyiddin, the International Trade Minister, may have been encouraged when he qualified very early (39 needed to qualify) and many thought he would win uncontested.
Blogger Kuda Kepang (Datuk Ruhanie Ahmad) ran an article in his blog two days ago saying that a hidden voice has been working behind the scene whispering advice to divisions to help ensure Muhyiddin is challenged, and not win the post uncontested.
Another blogger, Datuk Wong Chun Wai, the chief editor of the Star newspaper, too wrote a piece suggesting that Muhyiddin won't find it easy because he is seen to be over-critical of his party boss, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
That being so, especially when Muhyiddin is seen to be instrumental behind the move to make Abdullah vacate his post earlier than 2010, factions aligned to Abdullah worked hard to deny Muhyiddin a walk-in.
With 92 nominations (beating Mohd Ali's and Muhd Taib's combined total of 91), there seems to be a very big number of Umno grassroots leaders who agree with Muhyiddin on the issues he has been raising since the March general election.
Muhyiddin's challengers are no pushovers mind you. Mohd Ali have done well in Malacca, even though there is a school of thought who believe that he may be out of depth at the federal level. Others see Muhd Taib, who served Selangor well in his early years as MB of Selangor, may have expired his shelf life in high-end politics.
I suspect that delegates attending the March assembly would love to see such a contest, partly for their own personal bank accounts. I may sound cynical but lots of money will be used in the long campaign ahead. Everyone will be using money, only the amount varies.
I've heard of war-chests being amassed to prepare for the battle ahead. I recall talk that some funds allocated for the March 8 general election were not fully utilised, having saved some for the Umno campaign.
A sinister thought did come across my mind, and I can tell you that I'm not the only with such a view. The divisions wanted to see a contest for the top posts as this would enable them to 'earn easy money.'
There will be some 2,500 delegates casting their votes in March. For the contestants, these are the ones that matter. A big portion of those who voted in the divisional meetings have shown their preferences, meaning they are the real voice of the Umno grassroots.
The 2,500-odd delegates attending the March assembly may have other ideas. Their votes may not reflect the choice of the grassroots. That's why all the aspirants are now compiling names of the delegates. It's in their hands who will be Umno top bosses for the next three years.
I leave it to your imagination as to how the aspirants will woo these 2,500-odd voters.