Leaders to face critical challenges for top Umno positions


(The Star) – The much awaited Umno polls today will be a test whether division leaders and party warlords can still influence the race for the vice-presidents’ posts and supreme council seats.

There is much uncertainty over their power now as 146,500 party delegates are set to cast their votes in an election, the outcome of which could shake up the established order in the party.

While last week’s elections for Youth and the Wanita wings saw the incumbent chiefs winning as expected, today’s polling is likely to produce some upsets and surprises.

Two-thirds, or 127 of Umno’s 191 division chiefs’ posts, are up for grabs. For the supreme council, 50 new aspirants will compete with 14 incumbents for the 25 seats.

Cheras Umno chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Al-Habshee said division leaders could no longer call the shots.

“It was possible in the past because they had a smaller number of delegates to influence. Now it is a different ball game altogether,” he said.

Kepong chief Datuk Ridzuan Abdul Hamid said trying to influence delegates would be tough especially when incumbent division chiefs themselves were being challenged.

According to party officials, most delegates are firm in wanting their say on who should lead the divisions and be given seats in Umno’s top decision making body.

Party vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said delegates of last Saturday’s election voted in more than 30% new faces for the wings at division level.

“They kept the incumbents for some of the posts but at divisional level, they voted for change.

“If last Saturday’s trend is any indicator, there will be many changes in the division line-up,” said Zahid.

Johor Baru Umno division information chief Abu Talib Alias said while it was expected that ministers and mentris besar would be voted in, the rest of the supreme council members should comprise capable new leaders.

The race for the party vice-presidencies has generated the most interest, as its result would indicate the future leadership of Umno.

The three incumbent vice-presidents – Dr Ahmad Zahid, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal – face strong challenges from Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Datuk Mohd Isa Samad.

Major changes in the line-up for the supreme council and vice-presidents’ positions could provide Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak reasons to consider a Cabinet reshuffle.

Currently, besides Najib and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, 10 of the 32 members of the Cabinet comprise elected Umno supreme council members and three vice-presidents.

Winners of the supreme council seats and division chiefs will also likely be selected as candidates to lead Umno’s charge in the 14th general election.

One of the divisions that’s being watched closely is Gua Musang where long-time chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is facing a contest after helming it for more than 30 years.

In the Johor Baru division, another party veteran Tan Sri Shahrir Samad is up against two challengers.

Several ministers and mentris besar are also being challenged as division heads.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the Agriculture and Agro-based Minister, is being challenged by his former political secretary Datuk Azizan Che Omar in Bera while his deputy minister Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman is facing Perak exco member Datuk Zainol Padzi Paharuddin in Pasir Salak.

Shafie, who is also Semporna chief, is up against two challengers – former Youth chief Nixon Abdul Habi and former Sulabayan assemblyman Datuk Harman Mohammad.

Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar and Rembau chief Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan is being challenged by former Chembong assemblyman Datuk Mohamad Rais Zainuddin while Terengganu Mentri Besar and Kemaman chief Datuk Seri Ahmad Said will face the division’s former head Mat Dalam Awang.

Polling will take place at all 191 divisions around 9am and is expected to end in the afternoon.

Umno executive secretary Datuk Rauf Yusoh said results for the vice-presidential election will likely be known by midnight.