On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Surprise showing by new breed of leaders

In short, these contenders speak their lingo and in the
coming party polls in September their showing would have an impact on their
political careers.

The Umno elections, rightly or wrongly, have been
considered as more important than even the general election.

The showing of Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr
Mohamed Khir Toyo must have surprised many observers. He is second out of the
110 Umno leaders nominated.

Securing 171 nominations, the Universiti Malaya-trained
dentist, who turned 39 on Friday, is said to have laid his groundwork over the
last four years.

In 2000, he scraped through the Umno Youth race, making
him the last candidate to be elected into the 15-member executive committee. He
was then just Tanjung Karang division Youth chief, a virtual unknown.

Barely four years as Mentri Besar of the most developed
state, he seems to have caught the attention of the delegates.

His supporters said his strongest card was the Barisan
Nasional's strong showing in the recent general election, where Umno scored
100% victory.

Except for two seats which went to the DAP, Barisan won
all 54 seats. The two sole PAS state assemblymen – vice-presidents Datuk Dr
Hassan Ali and Dr Shafie Salleh – lost their seats.

Other bright sparks in the supreme council race so far
include Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who was appointed
to the post after the March polls. The 48-year-old former banker, who spent 30
years in the corporate world, was the managing director of Cycle and Carriage
Bintang Bhd.

Then there is Datuk Dr Awang Adek Husin, the Deputy Rural
and Regional Development Minister. He made his political debut in the March
polls and wrested the Bachok parliamentary seat from PAS.

Despite the robust politics of Kelantan, the former
lecturer was returned unopposed in the Bachok Umno division. With Kelantan Umno
leaders like Datuk Mustapa Mohamad vying for the vice-president's post, Dr
Awang is in 19th spot with 121 nominations.

Also vying for a supreme council seat for the first time
is Datuk Azalina Othman Said, the Youth and Sports Minister. She is in 14th
place with 135 nominations. Just a notch up is Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul

Other notable figures include Deputy Tourism Minister
Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Noh Omar,
who both have more than 100 nominations.

Interestingly, old-timers like Rural Development Minister
Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin have also made an impressive showing – he leads the
field with 175 nominations.

The other leaders that have taken their places are Datuk
Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain, Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin, Datuk Abdul Kadir
Sheikh Fadzir, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali and Datuk
Shafie Apdal.

The Umno race has also heated up with party president
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi declaring that vice-president aspirants who
lose may not be appointed into the supreme council.

The contenders include incumbents Tan Sri Muhammad
Muhammad Taib and Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin.

The others in the fray are Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam,
Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, Tan Sri Mohamed Isa Abdul Samad, Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob
and Datuk Shahrir Samad.

Last week, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar
declared he was withdrawing from the vice-president's race and would now
concentrate on a supreme council seat, which he has qualified to contest with
23 nominations.

Under the party constitution, Abdullah has the power to
appoint 13 members to the supreme council, including the treasurer, information
chief and secretary-general. In the past, losers were appointed to the supreme

Six of the vice-presidential contenders have obtained the
required nominations to contest for supreme council seats but all eight are
expected to go for broke.

The Umno elections may be more than a month away but, as
the saying goes, a week in politics is a long time – and the nominations need
not necessarily be translated into votes.