So close yet so far for Mukhriz 

The clearest hint of where the instruction could have come from lay in Pahang, where every single one of the 14 divisions gave their VP votes to Zahid, Shafie and Hisham­muddin. Not a single division in Pahang dared go against what they perceived as the wishes of Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Joceline Tan, The Star 

The big winner in the Umno elections was Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is now seen as a man destined for bigger things in the party.

THE media crowd were still crushed together around top Umno vice-president (VP) Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when another group of reporters started rushing towards the escalator area of the PWTC’s fifth floor.

Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and a small entourage were making their way up the escalator and people were waving and calling out to him.

It was a little after 1am and the Mukhriz group had come from his house, which is just a stone’s throw from the PWTC.

Sometimes, the one who loses attracts more attention than the winner and that was the case as reporters and cameramen pressed around him.

The official results for the hot race were in.

Zahid had emerged as the top Umno VP with 185 electoral votes, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal was close behind with 174 and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein got 99.

Mukhriz had lost to Hisham­muddin by only seven electoral votes although his overall popular vote was more than that of Hisham­muddin.

It was a case of so close yet so far and his team was very disappointed. But you would not have been able to tell looking at Mukhriz as he inched his way through the media squeeze that night.

He kept the smile on his face but his brother Datuk Mokhzani, who was at his side throughout, looked rather tense.

There was quite a bit of sympathy for Mukhriz among the press corps because he had lost a good fight.

They appreciated that he had fought a clean campaign and the consensus was that he would have won had there been no instruction from high up for the incumbents to be retained.

The clearest hint of where the instruction could have come from lay in Pahang, where every single one of the 14 divisions gave their VP votes to Zahid, Shafie and Hisham­muddin.

Not a single division in Pahang dared go against what they perceived as the wishes of Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“Pahang is the Prime Minister’s state and we made the decision to go with the incumbents,” said Temerloh Umno chief Datuk Sharkar Sham­suddin.

Mukhriz’s political path has hit a road bump or perhaps even a road block. Like it or not, his arch rival Khairy Jamaluddin is a step ahead.

Some claimed the top-down order also involved not endorsing either Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad because no one could quite explain how the pair had ended up with a dismal seven divisions each.

The shocker was that Ali received support from only one division in Malacca – his own Bukit Katil division. Tangga Batu, headed by Ali’s mentee and Chief Minister Datuk Idris Haron failed to carry him.

“Datuk Ali is still popular but delegates voted in a pragmatic way. In Tangga Batu, the delegates’ sentiment were swayed by the fact that there is an army camp in the area. They felt they had to give the vote to Hishammuddin,” said Malacca Umno secretary Datuk Akbar Ali.

The delegates wanted to go with the guaranteed winner. But Ali will find hard it to live it down and his hardcore supporters regard it as a stab in the back.

But party delegates in general are signalling that the VP post must be the training pod for those with potential to fill the very top post.

It should not be for politicians who are past their prime to use to prolong their career.

Hishammuddin’s narrow escape is a wake-up call. This son of a former Prime Minister was seen as a potential Prime Minister from the day he stepped into politics.

But his political future is less than clear after what has happened.

There was an undeniable groundswell of disenchantment with his performance as a Cabinet minister and political style and he will have to step up his game.

Critics say he will have to drop his bangsawan or aristocratic style and come down to the people.

The re-elected VPs and the new supreme council line-up are hardly what one would call a dream team for Najib.

But, said a Najib insider, it comprises people he can work with.

“Status quo also means less disruption. There is no urgent need to immediate reshuffle Cabinet posts and he can quickly get past the politics and get down to the business of running the Government,” said the insider.

There were substantial changes at the supreme council level where half of those elected were new faces.

The new leadership line-up is unlikely to rock the boat and that, apparently, is the way the No 1 likes it.

Zahid will be the man to watch in Umno. His resounding victory shows that the Home Minister has captured the imagination of Umno members with his uncompromising crackdown on organised crime and his defence of the police force.

They are also drawn to his unapologetic rhetoric on issues of race and religion.

Zahid has what the Chinese call that kamceng or camaraderie thing going on with whoever he meets and it sits well on the Umno people.

Very few doubt that he will be contented to stay where he is after such a spectacular return to the top VP slot.

It is a topic that very few want to openly discuss.

The Malay culture is such that it is seen as inappropriate to discuss such high ambitions unless the posts become vacant.

But the assumption is that he will be in line for the deputy president post should it become available.

Zahid and Najib are both 60 and they were contemporaries in Umno Youth.

Given Zahid’s age, very few see him as a contender for Prime Minis-ter in the years ahead but many do see him as a potential Deputy Prime Minister if he plays it right.

The big question is whether he will wait till the post is available or make a play for it in three years’ time.