Thursday, October 2, 2008

Zahid Hamidi to run for Umno No. 2

Zahid Hamidi to run for Umno No. 2

Zahid is going for broke. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 - Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is going for broke. The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department is going to offer himself as a candidate for the Umno deputy president’s position over the next few days, setting the stage for a face-off with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the former Umno Youth chief has decided to contest for the number two position after speaking to supreme council members and gauging the sentiment of divisional officials.

Muhyiddin, the party’s vice-president, will be the favourite to snare the bulk of nominations when the divisional meetings are held in October and November, but Zahid will not be very far behind.

The de facto minister in charge of religious affairs has a strong network of support among the party rank-and-file, nurtured from the time he was an office bearer in the youth wing in the mid-1990s.

This contest for the number two position in the party is likely to come down to the wire at the March general assembly.

The Insider has learnt that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is not going to publicly endorse anyone who offers to contest the deputy president’s position.

His rationale: If the person he does not endorse wins, it could complicate his working relationship in the party and government with his deputy.

But party officials expect Najib’s camp to send signals to the ground that he would be pleased to work with Zahid if the latter was elected deputy president.

This is not surprising given that the Perak-born politician was his political secretary and lingering trust issues that some Najib supporters have with Muhyiddin.

Though these supporters acknowledge that Muhyiddin played a pivotal role in creating the groundswell that finally led to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi accepting that he could not stay in office till 2010, they are worried that he seemed willing to do a deal with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and others to challenge Najib, if it came down to that.

Still, Najib is a realist. If it appears that Muhyiddin has the numbers and support of the divisions, he will be willing to forgive and forget.

Zahid’s decision to contest the number two position in Umno is just the latest step in the rehabilitation of a politician who became collateral damage after the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998.

A close associate of Anwar, he disagreed with the action taken by then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and paid the price by being held under the Internal Security Act for supporting the reformasi movement.

He quit as Umno Youth chief and stayed on the sidelines of party politics for several years. He returned to the mainstage after being invited by Abdullah when the latter was the DPM.

He has served as a deputy minister in the information and tourism ministries.

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