Umno polls could spring a surprise

The Umno polls are just another couple of months away but the ground is quiet, the campaigning subdued and the mood is not to rock the boat after what the party went through in the general election.

At another level, some 146,500 delegates from 199 Umno divisions will vote on the posts for president, deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 supreme council members (Fig 3). This is in contrast to the past when 2,000-plus delegates decided on the leadership line-up.

Joceline Tan. The Star

Figure 1

TAN Sri Mohd Isa Samad looks rather well groomed these days. The Felda chairman has been sporting a more contemporary hair-do and a neatly trimmed goatee. He is also into well-tailored suits and his ties match the folded handkerchief in his breast pocket. But most of all, Isa is glowing with health and contentment.

His previous scruffy grassroots politician image is a thing of the past and according to his friends, the credit goes to his wife Puan Sri Bibi Sharliza Mohd Khalid, the Puteri Umno politician whom he married several years after his first wife died of cancer. It is so sweet to find love the second time around and Bibi has stepped naturally into her role as a politician’s wife.

Isa, who is also Bagan Pinang assemblyman, has enjoyed a high profile in the Malay heartland since his 2010 Felda appointment.

The new-look Isa even comes across as rather polished and sophisticated – until he opens his mouth. Then you know that he is the same old Isa – loquacious, full of jokes and as down-to-earth as ever.


Figure 2

But the Umno circle is buzzing with talk that Isa is mulling whether to go for one of the three Umno vice-president (VP) posts.

In fact, Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad has labelled Isa the “dark horse” in the VP race.

This will be his fourth try. He failed the first time in 2000, won the second time in 2004 but had to resign following disciplinary action for money politics, and lost in his third attempt in 2009.

The media has been pressing him for an answer everywhere he goes. His official response is that he has not decided. But those close to him think he is “70% decided”.

Some said Isa has been telling Umno people to make sure that incumbent VP Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wins again before adding with a smile: “If you can, also put me there.”

It is a rather clever way of riding on Zahid’s popularity without seeming to do so.


Figure 3

It is only two more months to the Umno elections but the VP race has not stirred the sort of excitement or interest that it used to. Those whom the Umno grassroots think might be suitable up there have shown little inclination so far.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman whom many say would join the race is reportedly quite contented to concentrate his efforts on looking after his state.

Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, still flushed from the success of the Kuala Besut by-election, said “not at all” when asked if he was looking at the VP post.

Selangor Umno chief Datuk Noh Omar, who came in No 2 in the last supreme council contest, said he has his hands full as the opposition leader in Selangor.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir had not even given it a thought because he had decided early on that his priorities are squarely on Perak.

Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Hasan told reporters he is “not that ambitious.”

The Umno rank and file say that they want to see at least one “young face” up there among the seniors but potentates like Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir have indicated that they prefer to concentrate on their new administrative duties.

“I am not feeling it at all,” said one Perak Umno official about the party polls.

The dates for the polls have been set. All posts are open for contest and anyone eyeing a post can file his or her papers on Sept 7. All they need is a single nomination, unlike the previous system where aspiring candidates had to canvass for nominations from the divisions and, after that, campaign for votes.

The strange thing is that despite the laissez faire system, very few people have openly stated their intentions. Some have put it down to the Malay trait of segan or reticence. Umno is rarely short of ambitious persons but it was evidently easier to have the Umno divisions nominating them for posts than to be upfront about one’s ambition for a post.

Even Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have been rather circumspect about their positions and it is likely that those down the line are taking the cue from them.

“There is an overwhelming mood not to rock the boat after what we went through in the general election. People are free to contest but the feeling is that this is not the right time for big challenges that may split the party,” said Urban Well-Being, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Rahman Dahlan.

One of Umno’s most independent voices, Cheras Umno chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Alhabshee, has urged delegates to vote only for “real party men who will live and die in Umno”.

“This is the chance for us to select people who speak up, work hard and are not there just to warm the seat. They must be people who will stand by the party and not up and go if they do not get what they want.

New faces

“I am also appealing to my fellow party members to give the No 1 and No 2 another term. They have worked hard, they work well together, they deserve to be there. As for the posts of VP and below, let the grassroots decide who they want as their future leaders,” said Syed Ali.

Alwi has suggested that the next supreme council comprise of at least one-third fresh faces who can help in the Prime Minister’s transformation policies while the other two-thirds should include performing ministers and experienced faces.

There are also many in Umno who feel that there must also be leaders who are willing to be vocal on Malay rights, or what they call “Perkasa types”, to defend the party’s position on Islam, the Rulers and the nation.

The more cynical say the current calm spell is the lull before the storm and that this election may see the biggest number of candidates yet, especially for the 25 supreme council seats.

It will also see thousands of delegates voting, putting the new and radically different election system to the test. The Wanita, Youth and Puteri elections will take place on Sept 28 and the election for the supreme council on Oct 5.

Some 100,000 delegates are eligible to vote in the Wanita election, 70,000 in the Youth election and 50,000 in the Puteri election (Fig 1 and 2).

At another level, some 146,500 delegates from 199 Umno divisions will vote on the posts for president, deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 supreme council members (Fig 3). This is in contrast to the past when 2,000-plus delegates decided on the leadership line-up.

“It’s big and the good thing about it is that money cannot determine the outcome. But those who have a high profile will enjoy the edge,” said Alwi.

At the same time, said Alwi, the grassroots know who can deliver and those who work hard.

“Watch out for Azeez,” said Alwi.

Umno blogs have been grousing about Datuk Abdul Azeez Rahim’s appointment as the new Tabung Haji chairman. There is a great deal of prejudice against Azeez because of his colourful past but, on the ground, Azeez has a reputation as someone who is not afraid of hard work and who helps the disadvantaged.

His efforts for the poor and needy in Baling helped him beat Brig-Gen (R) Datuk Najmi Ahmad of PAS and the younger brother of Datuk Ahmad Nakhaie in the Baling parliamentary seat.

He has spent the holy month of Ramadan traversing the country in his capacity as Tabung Haji chairman, handing out zakat to the poor. He has also been doing other charity work as head of Putera Malaysia.

Last week, Azeez was in Kota Baru where he met up with some of the Kelantan Umno leaders including state chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Alwi.

Alwi reminded those present that Azeez had squeezed into the last slot of the 25-seat supreme council at the last Umno election.

Then turning to Azeez, he teased: “No more No 25 for you this time. God willing, you will be No 2 or No 5.”

It was sheer flattery but Azeez must have left Kota Baru floating on cloud nine.

But apart from the top two posts, the outcome of the Umno elections is hard to predict this time around.

The thousands of delegates who will be voting come from diverse parts of the country and they have their own criteria and priorities in selecting whom they regard as suitable leaders. There may be some surprising results.