Dilemma of Two UMNO Leaders

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak looked rather comfortable with each other as they settled down for dinner after maghrib prayers on Monday night.

Relations between them had not always been this warm. Both of them had, at one time, eyed the job of Deputy Prime Minister but Najib pipped Muhyiddin to it, thanks, in no small way to the intervention of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

The irony is that Dr Mahathir is now backing Muhyiddin for the No 2 post in Umno this December.

He is also throwing his support behind Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the man he had fought so bitterly in the Umno polls of 1986.

The former premier envisages the pair as running mates to take on Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib for the top two posts in Umno. He is still furious with Abdullah and has grown disappointed with Najib.

Apparently, Dr Mahathir is so determined to unseat Abdullah that he is prepared to lend his weight to his old nemesis Tengku Razaleigh as well as Muhyiddin whom he had sidelined in favour of Najib.

Dr Maha-thir knows Tengku Razaleigh may not have the clout to even garner enough nominations to contest the post.

But if the Kelantan Prince has a strong running mate in the form of Muhyiddin, the Umno grassroots may take the challenge a little seriously.

That was what the hush-hush meeting on Saturday in Dr Mahathir’s Cyberjaya house was about.

Out­wardly, Muhyiddin was there to in­vite the former premier to rejoin Umno.

But the fact that Tengku Razaleigh and two former Umno secretary-generals Tan Sri Sanusi Junid and Tan Sri Sabaruddin Chik were also present suggested that the meeting was also for Muhyiddin to hear them out.

The question now is whether Muhyiddin will go along with Dr Mahathir. Muhyiddin told The Star that, as of now, he intended to defend his vice-president post.

There is no doubt that Muhyiddin has emerged as one of the most credible and respected voices in Umno today.

His earlier views that Umno needed a leadership change after the March tsunami upset the circle around Abdullah. They felt he was ungrateful after being given plum post of International Trade and In­dustry Minister.

But his vocal opinions also won him a following among those who blamed Abdullah for the Barisan Nasional’s disastrous performance.

Umno politicians in Johor are confident that Muhyiddin, a former Johor Mentri Besar, will not run with Tengku Razaleigh.

“If Tan Sri Muhyiddin goes for the deputy president post, it will be as the No 2 to Datuk Najib. He will not pair up with Kuli (Tengku Razaleigh),” said one of his top aides.

In other words, Muhyiddin prefers to be the running mate to Najib.

Najib is again under pressure to push for an earlier leadership transition. It is possible Najib must have felt like he was standing on the deck of the Titanic itself in the last few weeks.

The Umno rank and file are deeply unhappy that their political situation has not improved at all since March.

The Permatang Pauh defeat further sapped their confidence and the spectre of Sept 16 has rocked the party.

Umno members are also fed-up with the way the media had hounded Bukit Bendera Umno chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail and angry that Najib had apologised so quickly.

“The party is in crisis, nothing we say or do seems to be right,” said Selangor Umno Youh deputy chief Faisal Abdullah.

Najib knows his image has taken a terrible dip.

He is beginning to be seen as someone who plays it too safe, who is not meeting challenges head-on or, worse, who may not be able to take on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

His supporters have renewed their pressure on him to go for the No 1 post. But he has made such an open commitment to stand by Abdullah that it would look bad if he changes his mind.

Najib leaves for the United States next week. His supporters want him to think long and hard about the state of the party and take a final stand when he returns.

– mstar

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