The top-down push for a status quo at the Umno vice-president level has not gone down well with the party grassroots who resent being told who to vote for.
KELANTAN Umno politician Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad used to be known for his witty oratory but he has been likened to the actors of the Malay movie Tanda Putera ever since he changed spectacles to the sixties-style, black rimmed glasses.
As a result, Alwi who is vying for a seat in the Umno supreme council, has adopted a unique campaign line: “Think of Tanda Putera, think of me.”
Last week, Alwi who is deputy Ketereh Umno chief, was in Shah Alam with the three Umno vice-presidents (VPs) at a function for the Selangor delegates to meet the VPs.
Alwi seems to be one of those who support a status quo at the VP level and he has accompanied the three Datuk Seri’s – Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and Shafie Apdal – on a number of their state rounds.
They have been well received everywhere they have gone.
At the Shah Alam event, Zahid who spoke on behalf of the trio said: “If re-elected, we will look after Selangor. Menteri Lori” (Hishammuddin is also acting Transport Minister) will handle the transport problems in Selangor. Menteri Luar Bandar (Shafie) will handle the rural areas. And Menteri Sekuriti will handle the gangsters.”
Everyone had a good laugh, especially when Zahid claimed that some of the gangs are trying to escape into Thailand.
“Don’t worry, we will stop them at the border, ask them to remove their shirts to check their tattoos,” he said to more laughter.
The trio have been campaigning as a team despite denying being a team and there have been calls to maintain the status quo at the VP level.
But laughs aside, the status quo campaign line for the VPs has not gone down well among the Umno delegates, especially those in the urban states.
There have been rumblings among Federal Territory Umno delegates after secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor reportedly asked them to retain the three VPs.
Some felt that as the secretary-general, Tengku Adnan should stay above the fray.
But it has since been claimed it was only a “suggestion” on Tengku Adnan’s part.
There was also an attempt by a state chief to get his division leaders to take a stand to endorse the incumbents. But the move failed after some of the division chiefs refused on the grounds that it would not go down well with their grassroots.
More recently, a macho division warlord from Perak had wanted to issue a statement that his division wants to endorse Zahid, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad for the VP post.
But he had to abort his plan after receiving phone calls from top leaders telling him not to do that. He toed the line but was quite cheesed-off.
It is quite clear by now that the three incumbents do enjoy the backing of the top leadership.
The three incumbents are all closely linked to Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Zahid and Shafie were in the Youth wing with Najib during his time as Umno Youth leader.
As for Hishammuddin, blood is thicker than water.
Najib feels comfortable with them and they have worked well together.
More important, none of the three look like the sort who will go against him should the going get rough in the years ahead.
In the past, this sort of endorsement from the top would have guaranteed a win. But times have changed.
The Umno ground especially in the urban divisions, has grown more discerning and demanding of what they want out of their leaders.
Their assessment of a leader is not based solely on what the top man says but also based on how they view the performance and personality of the those vying for posts.
“It is no more like the old days where you tell, they follow. The more you pressure, the more people will be unhappy.
“You can give hints but people don’t like it if you tell them do this, don’t do that,” said deputy Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.
Some of the delegates even have their own KPIs for the VP candidates who are ministers and not all of them have passed.
Another important factor is how well candidates have defended the party, the Malays and the religion.
Finally, the candidates are assessed on how friendly and approachable they have been.
This is where the ministers come under great scrutiny because even though they are up there they are expected to be accessible to the Umno rank and file.
The push to maintain the VP status quo looks like it is on the point of backfiring.
The feedback is that delegates resent being told what to do or who to vote for. They said the new election system is meant to give the party grassroots greater say on who they want as their leaders.
The more thinking delegates said that such instructions from the top “insults our intelligence”.
“It’s very hard to read the VP race. All I can say is that my friends inside and also outside Umno are looking at Zahid and Mukhriz but anything can happen,” said Faizal.
The official road show for candidates to meet the delegates begins tomorrow.
These party-organised affairs have been criticised by some as undemocratic but the rules were made with good intentions.
They are aimed at reducing the opportunities for money politics.
But the focus of many candidates are on the four big states – Johor, Sabah, Perak and Selangor.
The big four have a total of 97 divisions, which is more than the total tally of 94 divisions in the rest of the states.
Those hoping for hints on the eventual outcome of the VP race will be closely following the road show.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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