OCT 16 — Buoyed by the overwhelming lead he has secured for the deputy presidency after the first week of nominations from Umno divisions, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has moved to land a fatal blow on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Under the latest, and what many thought was the final version of the transition plan, Abdullah announced that he would not stand for re-election in Umno and hand over power when the party’s annual congress officially elects its new leader in March.
Following Abdullah’s announcement, as planned, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, is cruising towards an uncontested win with no one else managing to secure a nomination for the top post thus far. For many in Umno, it is already a foregone conclusion that Najib and Muhyiddin will be the next leadership pair of the party and government.
But until now, there was also widespread acceptance for the postponement of the party congress from December to March in order to give Abdullah some time to finish his promised reforms. It seems that even that is now under question.
When met by reporters today, Muhyiddin said that the campaign period was too long and that this would affect the official work of ministers and deputy ministers aspiring for posts in the party.
Reading between the lines of Muhyiddin’s statement is a clear move to oust Abdullah earlier.
Muhyiddin has been at the forefront of the campaign to get Abdullah to resign after the March general election which initially resulted in the 2010 formula, and then when Muhyiddin felt that he could push it further, he succeeded in orchestrating calls for an earlier handover which finally led to the March 2009 agreement where Abdullah would step down as Prime Minister after the party congress.
Now, Muhyiddin is at it again. Perhaps confident that he has no real challenger for the deputy presidency considering his nearest rival, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam, is trailing far behind in nomination numbers, Muhyiddin is now going for the kill by appealing to Umno members to exert pressure once again on the leadership to bring the date of the congress forward and hence get Abdullah out quicker.
The move is calculated to give an advantage to the current frontrunners who are all perceived to be aligned to the Najib-Muhyiddin ticket — vice-president aspirants Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir who is leading the race for the Youth leadership.
The quicker the congress, where delegates will elect those who make it past the nomination stage, the better the chances are for these frontrunners. If the congress takes place in March 2009 as scheduled, sentiment can turn against those who have taken an early lead.
However, the main point behind Muhyiddin's latest move is that it is designed to cut short Abdullah's extra time in office. It is possible that the latest round of political attacks on Najib has created a sense that the transition must happen quicker before any more damage is done to the incoming premier.
Many Najib supporters feel that he will be better able to handle the accusations if he is already the Prime Minister and that March may be too far away. For Muhyiddin, an earlier Abdullah exit will also see him appointed as Deputy Prime Minister quicker.
Muhyiddin's latest statement comes a few days after a telling photograph was published in a leading Malay-language daily of him, Najib and former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sitting together at a Hari Raya open house.
For political observers, the photograph spoke not just a thousand, but a million words. Dr Mahathir wants nothing more than Abdullah being booted out of office sooner than later.
It seems Muhyiddin is about to deliver that for the man who has come out in vocal support for him as Najib's deputy.