Friday, September 12, 2008

Umno leaders mull using an old playbook

Umno leaders mull using an old playbook


SEPT 12 For the past few days, powerful Umno warlords have been making a beeline to meet Datuk Seri Najib Razak. They have voiced concerns over Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's indecisiveness; the state of flux in the ruling party and the sense that the country is running on auto-pilot.

All part of his impressive network of supporters on the ground, they urged him to do something, even whispered into Abdullah's ears that the two-year transition plan may not be tenable anymore. Or seek more control of day-to-day running of the government.

Their parting shot to Najib was chilling: do something or we may have to reconsider our support for you.

Today's decision by the DPM to say that the transition of power should be decided by delegates at next month's Umno divisional meetings next was as much a move to protect his position with the warlords as it was a message to Abdullah that there needs to be some major modification to the transition plan.

A close associate of Najib told The Malaysian Insider: "The DPM has been under tremendous pressure from the grassroots since the Permatang Pauh by-election. But his position remains that he is with Pak Lah. He is not going to join forces with Dr Mahathir or Muhyiddin.

"It would be beneficial for Najib and would go down well with the grassroots if he took charge of the day-to-day-operations of the government while PM focus on specific reforms.''

In effect, this situation would mirror the arrangement after the 1969 race riots when Tunku Abdul Rahman took a backseat and allowed Najib's father, Tun Abdul Razak, to govern the country through the National Operations Council. Ironically, Abdullah was a greenhorn civil servant in the council.

In all likelihood, the PM could be forced to consider even appointing Najib as the acting PM sooner than he had envisaged. In his original plan, he was going to give Najib more responsibilities and appoint him in the acting capacity for a short spell.

But with his most loyal ally wavering and with a wave of antipathy building up against him, Abdullah may not have many options but to give a clear indication before the divisions start meeting that there will be a change to the transition plan.

If he plays hardball, Najib's men may go down to the ground and inform divisional leaders that the DPM will accept nominations for the president's position. But Najib's camp says that he is not looking to break with Abdullah.

They also say that he remains wary of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, believing that the Umno vice-president is not a team player and seems to be leaning towards supporting the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah team.

Would Najib join forces with Dr Mahathir? For now at least, the answer is an emphatic no. Apparently the DPM believes that too much water has passed under the bridge for both of them to be comfortable with each other.

Najib was Dr Mahathir's No. 1 choice as a successor to Abdullah but the DPM's decision to stay loyal to the PM angered the former prime minister.

So it seems that in Najib's calculation, the best option for him is to continue to support the transition plan. But unlike a few weeks ago, the support is not unconditional. He is looking to have a much bigger say in the running of the party and country.

If he gets his way, the two-year transition is intact. Otherwise, expect many Umno divisions to nominate Najib for the top posts after Hari Raya.

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