Zahid making moves to be PM?

Umno’s picks for GE15 asked to sign support letters giving party president mandate to form cabinet, say insiders

(The Vibes) – With the axe falling on incumbent Umno MPs aligned to caretaker prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob from contesting in the general election (GE15), party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is said to be preparing himself as a possible prime minister candidate.

Sources said the replacement candidates who have been given candidate appointment letters or “watikah” were also asked to sign letters supporting Zahid by giving him the mandate to form the next cabinet, should Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) win the election.

This includes backing Zahid to negotiate with other political parties and to appoint MPs of his choice as cabinet members, effectively positioning him as the prime minister candidate, according to party insiders.

If BN wins the most seats in GE15, Zahid – as head of the coalition – can be invited by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to form the next government, in line with the federal constitution.

“He is going state by state presenting the ‘surat watikah’,” said an Umno source.

“However, accepting the ‘surat watikah’ is conditional on them (the candidates to be named) signing a pledge of allegiance to the president and giving him the mandate to form the government, if Umno-BN wins the election,” said the source.

The Vibes earlier reported that several of Umno’s old guard not aligned with Zahid will not make the cut for GE15.

These include Selangor Umno chief Tan Sri Noh Omar and incumbents such as Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (Pasir Salak), Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba (Tenggara), and Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique (Kota Tinggi).

It is learnt that former Johor menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin will be fielded in Kota Tinggi, while Tenggara Umno Youth chief Manndzri Nasib, will contest in Tenggara. Manndzri is said to be Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan’s strongman.

Others said to be on the chop list are Tan Sri Annuar Musa (Ketereh), Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim (Arau), Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin (Padang Besar), Datuk Seri Mohd Salim Mohd Sharif (Jempol), and Datuk Seri Ismail Abdul Muttalib (Maran), sources told The Vibes.

The sources also said that Umno’s candidate list could go through further changes prior to nomination day this Saturday.

Ismail Sabri, the Bera incumbent and an Umno vice-president, had been under immense pressure from the party and Zahid to dissolve Parliament and hold early elections this year. He dissolved Parliament on October 10. Polling will now be held on November 19.

Calls by Umno for the dissolution had become more aggressive following the conclusion of the Johor election in March, where BN had won a massive victory, albeit with a low turnout.

At a special Umno meeting two months ago, Ismail Sabri’s name drew jeers when mentioned by Zahid.

At the time, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had lost his final bid in the Federal Court to overturn his conviction and sentence for corruption in the SRC International Sdn Bhd case, and Ismail Sabri was cast as a prime minister from Umno who was unable to protect the party’s interests.

Zahid also faces corruption charges, with one case involving funds from charity foundation Yayasan Akalbudi ongoing, and another involving a company handling visas – which is pending an appeal by the prosecution against his acquittal.

Umno has repeatedly maintained that Ismail Sabri remains BN’s prime minister candidate and dismissed speculation that Zahid was gunning for the top post instead.