‘Hidden hands’ in Umno polls?

LISTS of winners in the elections of Umno’s three wings were circulating over the weekend even as the official results were still pending.

But the big winner, by most accounts, was Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The president’s choice for Umno Youth chief, Dr Akmal Saleh, and Wanita Umno leader, Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad, have won convincingly.

The leaders of these two wings need to be with him if he is to maintain a firm grip on the party.

However, the Puteri Umno wing appears to have ignored the president’s ‘cai’ and gone for their own choice, Datuk Nurul Amal Mohd Fauzi, who is better known as Along.

But Ahmad Zahid was apparently not the only one calling the shots behind the scenes.

Umno politics is full of intrigue and the last one week was choked with rumours of another pair of hidden hands holding sway over the election.

A social media post reportedly belonging to Datuk Seri Najib Razak had rooted for three specific candidates, including Noraini.

The post, which went viral a few days before polling, was like a clarion call to the party to remember the trio’s loyalty to Umno.

Many have credited the post for giving Noraini a last minute boost to beat Tan Sri Shahrizat Jalil who had run a much stronger campaign.

But with Bossku behind bars, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was perceived as the unseen hand behind Najib’s post.

Rosmah is quite a political animal in her own right and the speculation is that she utilised the Bossku network of loyalist to canvass for Noraini.

Even those around Shahrizat seem to agree because they know that Rosmah and Shahrizat have never been on the same page.

But Rosmah’s influence is probably most evident in her daughter Nooryana Najwa Najib’s grand entry into Puteri Umno politics.

Nooryana won the Lembah Pantai Puteri chief post unopposed. She also contested for the Puteri exco where she came in No 3.

And this, said an Umno official, is where it gets interesting.

Nooryana, who is Rosmah’s birth-daughter, cruised through her maiden election while her stepbrother, Nazifuddin Najib from Najib’s first wife, lost miserably in his bid for the Pemuda vice-chief post.

Nazifuddin, who is a splitting image of his father, comes across as rather reserved but videos of him and his birth mother show his spontaneous side and mother-and-son enjoy a close bond.

However, the Umno official said it was apparent that Nazifuddin did not get help from any hidden hands.

Others said there could be another pair of hidden hands, namely Sembrong MP Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein who still wields influence on the ground and especially in Johor.

The Wanita wing in his Sembrong division gave almost 100% of their support to Shahrizat.

Although the Youth and Wanita wings abided by the president’s preference on the top posts, they went their own way on their respective exco line-ups.

“You could say there was a mood for change,” said the Umno official.

For instance, although Shahrizat lost, her running mate Datuk Norliza Abdul Rahim won the the Wanita vice-chief post while 16 of the 20 Wanita exco members are said to be aligned to her.

“There was also some kind of generational shift because there are more than 60% new faces in the new Wanita exco,” said newly-elected Batu Pahat Wanita chief Haliza Abdullah.

Although the new Youth chief Akmal and his deputy Hairi Md Shah are part of the president’s cai, it was quite a mixed bag in the Youth exco line-up with two of Hishammuddin’s officers topping the exco list.

Akmal ran a steady campaign that showed him to be focused, mature and intelligent. He represents new hope but will his voice reflect issues that matter to the Youth wing or will he be a mouthpiece of the president?

Noraini, who is Parit Sulong MP, is lucky to get a second chance. She had been quite mediocre in her first term and few appreciated her excuses that she had taken over when Umno was in the opposition and short of funds.

Her critics noted after she took over the reins of Puteri Umno from Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said in 2004, she drove it downhill.

A true leader must be able to shine not only in good times but also in tough times. This is the opportunity for Noraini to prove she has what it takes to revitalise the women’s wing.

But even as the dust is still settling over the three wings, attention has shifted to the contest for the three vice-president (VP) posts and supreme council seats.

Will the hidden hands continue to assert their influence especially over the VP posts?

A list of names, that are supposedly the president’s cai, has been floating around.

The three VP names in the cai include Cabinet ministers Azalina and Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin as well as Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail.

There was hardly a fresh face among the names for the 25 supreme council seats. It is, however, a regionally balanced list cai that, however, includes some troublesome characters.

If the list is indeed the president’s cai, then it appears that the president wants to go with those who have proven their loyalty to him and the party.

He is not leaving anything to chance when the delegates vote on Saturday.