Heated fight that will need healing

Umno members pick new office-bearers tomorrow amid deep division over top leadership.

SEVERAL top Umno leaders will be fighting for their political survival when members vote tomorrow in the first party election in six years for national leadership positions.

With the No.1 and No.2 positions off-limits after a controversial no contest resolution, the fight for the vice-presidency will be the one to watch this time around.

There are three places at stake with eight people in the fray and the odds appear even for seven of them.

It is anyone’s guess whether two incumbents – Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid – can retain their post. The third vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has opted out.

While no reason was given by the former prime minister for not seeking re-election, the chatter is that he does not want to have anything to do with Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s leadership.

Ismail Sabri was among those who had questioned the no-contest decision.

Observers say the race for the vice-president posts would be wide open.

Prof Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said Khaled might have an upper hand, given that he is an incumbent and a minister.

However, the influence and popularity of the other candidates cannot be discounted.

There is the lone woman, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, who is known for her straight talk and for being vocal. She is also a division chief and a minister.

Datuk Seri Johari Ghani, the Titiwangsa MP and division chief, has a credible reputation on economic matters.

Kepala Batas chief and former MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican’s credentials are equally impressive.

Despite his relative young age of 51, Reezal is a seasoned politician and has years of experience in federal administration.

Then there is Datuk Seri Hasni Mohamad, the former Johor mentri besar and Barisan Nasional’s “poster boy” who led the coalition to a resounding victory in the state polls last year.

The soft spoken Hasni is popular in his home state, which has the largest number of members in the peninsula, while Datuk Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail is just as popular in Pahang.

However, not much is known about the eighth candidate Mohd Yusof Musa, besides the fact that he is from the Iskandar Puteri division.

The fight for the 25 seats in the Umno supreme council will be no less intense, with 95 hopefuls in the fight.

While that number looks rather large, it is not the highest ever. In 2013, there were more than 120 candidates.

Only 15 incumbents are seeking re-election, including Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Datuk Seri Shamsul Anuar Nasarah and Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, who had initially been a vice-presidential candidate but withdrew.

The division elections are far stiffer.

Of the 15 divisions in Kedah, only one, Padang Terap, has been spared from contest. Its chief Mahdzir was returned unopposed.

Even Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, or Ku Li, is being challenged in Gua Musang, which he has led for more than 50 years since it was known as Ulu Kelantan. More surprisingly, there are two challengers.

In Perlis, where there are only three divisions, two will see contests.

Only three of the 22 divisions in Selangor are spared, including Kota Raja where Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Aziz has won uncontested.

With just six of the Perak 24 divisions seeing no contest, Tapah, Gopeng and Tambun will be the divisions to watch.

Tapah and Gopeng will see former heads trying to make a comeback and taking on the incumbents. In Tambun, the youth chief will take on his boss.

A party insider, while defending the no-contest decision for president and deputy president, said the keen contest was a reflection of Umno’s democracy.

“We did not allow for the top posts to be jostled because we need the party to consolidate, not just to face the six state polls but for us to move forward.

“For the rest of the posts, though, it is free for all,” he said.

This election will also see new leaders in Pekan in Pahang and Sembrong in Johor.

Jailed former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had led Pekan since 1974 while his cousin, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein is now suspended, after leading Sembrong since it was formed in 2004.

The question now is: Will the president get his dream team or will he have to make do with a motley, even hostile, crew after the election?

Shamsul Amri said Ahmad Zahid might have attempted to ensure those aligned to him would get the support but this was met with some resistance.

“How else do you explain his daughter’s failure to become Bagan Datuk Wanita chief, although he is the division leader,” he said.

He said Umno members had their own minds, which might not necessarily be in tandem.

“Leaders can assert some influence but the outcome is in the hands of the delegates. The results is what the grassroots want and may not be what the leadership desires,” he said.

Political analyst Prof Awang Azman Awang Pawi said there were still those in Umno questioning the party’s decision to be a part of the unity government.

This, he said, was one of the reasons why some candidates aligned to the president might have it tough at the polls, citing Ahmad Zahid’s former political secretary Datuk Rosni Zahari’s defeat in the vice wanita chief race.

“What the president has to do is to convince members that having a team that understands the leadership’s agenda is important for Umno’s stability,” said Prof Awang Azman.

What is certain is that it will be an intensely-fought internal election and there’s no telling if Umno will emerge unscathed or deeply scarred.

Umno has gone through many bitter elections and this is just the latest one. but the party must heal the wounds and mend all cracks immediately after the results are announced.

Otherwise, it will be hard for Umno to survive today’s political challenges, especially if it has another dismal performance in the state polls.

The onus is on the party president to initiate the healing.