ON THE BEAT
By WONG CHUN WAI
IT’S 11am and the Dewan Rakyat sitting is taking place. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has moved his office from Putrajaya to the Parliament tower block to carry on with his work.
From his second-floor office, he occasionally glances at the television set next to his table to keep track of the proceedings.
There is a long queue outside his office where a steady stream of visitors is waiting for their turn to meet him.
At an adjacent room outside, several Umno leaders are also preparing themselves for a meeting with Najib.
As Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin walks in, the visitors stand up and shake his hand.
He puts on a broad smile, as if aware of feedback from the grassroots that he needs to smile more.
Najib and Muhyiddin are very much the men of the hour as Umno delegates nationwide make their way to Kuala Lumpur to elect a new leadership.
Najib has already won the Umno presidency unopposed and is now waiting to take over the helm.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has yet to announce the exact date of his exit but the common consensus is that he is likely to do so at the Umno general assembly starting Thursday.
Many expect the Prime Minister to announce that he would step down on April 2, when both Abdullah and Najib are expected to meet the King.
April 3 has been touted as the day when Najib would be sworn in as the country’s sixth Prime Minister.
The perception is that Muhyiddin would be his deputy but a lot would hinge on the outcome of the polls.
He is regarded as the best second man with his strong background in economics and management as well as his fluency in English.
Unlike many Umno leaders, he did not start off as a civil servant but in the private sector.
As the country grapples with the effects of the financial tsunami, Muhyiddin is seen as the best man to help Najib. They understand the complexities of a global interlocked financial system, that’s for sure.
Premature as it may seem, many already regard Najib as the new PM and Muyhiddin as his deputy.
But standing in the way would be Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib. Popular and easy-going, he puts many Umno delegates and the press at ease when dealing with them.
A former Mentri Besar, he has pointed out his track record as MB of Selangor, the most developed state in Malaysia, as the candidate they should chose.
With Mohd Ali Rustam out of the race, he could pick up more votes and, certainly, this would also come from strong supporters of Pak Lah who still cannot forgive Muhyiddin for the pressure he exerted on the Prime Minister to retire.
Mat Taib, a Universiti Malaya history graduate, has made it a point in the past few weeks to answer queries from English newspaper reporters in English even when they asked in Bahasa Malaysia.
But the language factor, it must be remembered, is not an issue among the 2,500 delegates.
At the vice-presidents’ level, heading the pack of contenders is Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi. Almost everyone from Umno to the media has concluded that he has made it.
Those following closely behind, it is said, include Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin.
Equally important would be the 25 elected supreme council seats for which 51 candidates are vying. Umno delegates need to choose candidates who are credible and clean. It is not just about choosing a new line-up of Malay leaders but Malaysian leaders as well.
Leaders like Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, for example, are often not news material. Mustapa shuns controversy but he is regarded as one of the most moderate candidates around.
But a year after the political tsunami on March 8, and the almost year-long campaigning by Umno candidates, the country is beginning to feel the impact of political fatigue.
It’s time to get back to real work once the Umno polls are over this weekend.
A new Prime Minister, a new Deputy Prime Minister and almost certainly a new Cabinet line-up would be in place by then.