ON THE BEAT
By : Wong Chun Wai
IT has been a truly dramatic week for Malaysians. Just weeks ago, we were told that the leadership transition plan would take effect in 2010 when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi passes the baton to his deputy.
But the political changes have accelerated with the Prime Minister possibly leaving office even earlier.
He has now been given a six-month breathing space with the party elections, scheduled for December, postponed to March.
The conclusion from the supreme council meeting is that Najib, who is already shouldering bigger responsibilities with his appointment as Finance Minister, would take over the leadership soon.
In short, the countdown has begun and the handover is imminent. The date, for some analysts, is merely a face-saving gesture to ensure he gets a respectful and graceful exit.
But it is imperative to note that Pak Lah has put in some caveats – he is not going on leave and that he would only decide on his political future by Oct 9.
For his supporters, who have found the decision difficult to accept, it is premature to write Pak Lah off.
Still the reality is that there is very little time left as Oct 9, when the 191 Umno divisions begin to name their nominations, is barely 10 days away. The divisions have until Oct 31 to decide their choices.
There are only two available options for Pak Lah – if he decides not to defend his presidency, it means retirement but if he decides to fight, Umno, and Malaysians, are in for a roller-coaster ride.
It could well mean a bruising fight with Najib as the latter has already been facing tremendous pressure for his reluctance, even refusal, to challenge the status quo.
The odds have been stacked up against Pak Lah since the heavy losses suffered by the Barisan Nasional on March 8.
It was the worst electoral defeat of the ruling coalition and even the 1969 election results were not as bad as that of 2008.
In short, it was no longer tenable for Pak Lah, badly wounded from the results, to hold on to his position.
The worsening economy due to the rising fuel prices, among others, hurt him further, as it did all heads of governments the world over.
Known as Mr Nice Guy, he suddenly found himself an unpopular leader, a fact his supporters and friends find hard to understand.
Should Pak Lah decide to fight on after Oct 9, it could possibly lead to a three-cornered fight with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah joining in the fray – if he can secure enough nominations.
The conventional wisdom is that the Kelantan prince would not get the required 58 nominations to contest the post.
But it is obvious that efforts have been made by Pak Lah and Najib to put the party above their interests by preventing possible contests.
Even Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin, who has been open in his criticism of the leadership, acknowledged that Pak Lah has been magnanimous.
For most of the supreme council members, the message has been made clear and that Pak Lah has come to terms with it.
The events would develop naturally and there are no reasons to rush into details such as dates. There would be no pressure of any kind, in short, as the crux of the issue has been resolved.
This week, Malaysians can expect to see more as the political drama continues to unfold.