On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

All eyes on top Umno posts

Should that be the case, it means  Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad  and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad  Badawi will be nominated for the  two posts. The deputy's post has  been left vacant since the expulsion of Datuk
Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Previously, it was assumed that 
Abdullah, a moderate and conciliatory figure, would be the sole
candidate for the No.2 position.

But now, word is out that some  divisions
are prepared to nominate  Tengku
Razaleigh Hamzah for either of the top two posts.

The names of these rebel divisions have been whispered within  Umno circles and members are  now eagerly waiting for the outcome.

These divisions, according to the 
grapevine, are supposedly headed 
by those who were not picked as 
candidates for the recent general 

Razaleigh himself has not said  anything
about contesting the party elections. Neither has the Gua  Musang division, headed by him,  expressed support for the no-contest

He has only indicated to those  close to
him that he would travel  round the
country to listen to  views of the

Still, the Kelantan prince has attracted much media attention, who  has been keeping a close watch on  his next political move.

Razaleigh needs 50 nominations  to
contest the president's post. If  he
decides to vie for the deputy's  post,
then he only needs 33 nominations.

That will be his first hurdle.  Once he
has secured the nominations, he would have to win the  support of the 2,000-or-so delegates.

It would not be an easy task.  Having a
fighting chance is one  thing, but being
confident and  comfortable of winning is

However, Razaleigh is taken seriously because he has the stature,  the connection and the ability to  run a well-organised and well funded campaign
to mount a challenge.

Working against him would be  the failure
to win back Kelantan  from PAS in the
general election.  Should Razaleigh
decide to contest  the two top posts, his
detractors  would certainly accuse him of
being ungrateful after having being  allowed
to rejoin Umno.

Razaleigh quit Umno to form  Parti Melayu
Semangat 46 after  failing to unseat Dr
Mahathir in  the 1987 party polls.

The fate of Umno leaders lies in  the
hands of the party delegates.  The 165
divisions will each send 12  delegates
(five appointed, seven  elected) to Kuala
Lumpur on May  11 to cast their

The division meetings will be  held over
the whole of next month.  The breakdown
of divisions, according to states, are: Perlis (3),  Kedah (15), Perak (23), Penang  (11), Selangor (17), Negri Sembilan  (7), Malacca (5), Johor (20), Kelantan (14),
Terengganu (8), Pahang  (11), Sabah (20),
Labuan (1) and  Kuala Lumpur (10).

The number of divisions is based  on the
number of parliamentary  constituencies
in the peninsula and  Sabah.

Umno elections are closely  watched
because the party president is usually the country's prime  minister. Attention would not be  just on the top posts but also the  second and third tiers of the Umno  leadership.

The main contender for the  three
vice-president's posts will be  Defence
Minister Datuk Seri Najib  Tun Razak, an

The other incumbents are Abdullah, who will vie for the deputy  president's post, and former Selangor Mentri
Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib who announced his decision to defend
his  post.

However, the Selangor Umno liaison committee has said it would  back Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abu  Hassan Omar for a veep post instead of Mat

Still, without the backing of his  own
state, no one is writing off Mat  Taib at
this juncture.

The other serious challengers  are
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri  Syed Hamid
Albar, Johor Mentri  Besar Datuk Abdul
Ghani Othman,  Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin
and Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Tan Sri 
Mohamed Isa Samad.

This time, an unusually large  number of
party leaders have expressed interest in joining the  fray. At the last count, there were  nine of them.

The focus would be on how the  Kubang
Pasu division, led by Dr  Mahathir, and
the Kepala Batas division, headed by Abdullah, make  their choices for the three veep  posts.

It would be particularly tough  for
Abdullah if he is challenged by  Razaleigh.
The choice of his division for the veep posts could possibly have an impact on
the delivery  of votes for him.

Regionalism would be a factor in  the
horse-trading of votes. For example, Perak and Sabah have  much political clout. The two  states, which will send the largest  number of delegates, are being  courted by the contenders.

Promises would be made and  deals struck
between the states  and contestants.
Based on sheer  numbers, some Sabah
divisions  think that Chief Minister
Datuk  Osu Sukam deserves a
vice-president's post.

Umno's 17,000 branches have  been meeting
since Jan 16, and will  elect delegates
to attend the division meeting next month.

In other words, the choice of the 
branches is important. Once the 
elected delegates attend the division meeting, they will have a say  in the nominations for the elections.

No one can say that grassroots  democracy
is not practised in  Umno. The party,
which has 2.7  million members, begins
its process of choosing the party leaders 
from the villages and ends at the 
Putra World Trade Centre in the 
federal capital.

Unlike some parties which do  not
practise direct elections, one to-one contests are carried out at  all levels.

The battle royale is still be two  months
away, but the shadow  fighting has