Intense campaign right to the end

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The political careers of six of Umno’s most prominent politicians are on the line in the contest for the Umno vice-president’s posts which will be decided tomorrow.

IT is going to take a bit of adjusting for everyone to view Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as a grandfather figure.

His daughter, who married at the time the Umno general assembly was taking place last year, is about to give him and his wife Datin Seri Tengku Marsilla Tengku Abdullah their first grandchild.

The 52-year-old Defence Minister will be the most boyish-looking grandfather in Umno by December.

But this grandfather-to-be has been going at the pace of a man half his age in his bid for a second term as an Umno vice-president.

The VP contest has not been this electrifying in decades.

The other incumbents are Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

Hishammuddin had started out on a strong note.

But things began to seem less predictable when Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad jumped into the ring.

But Hishammuddin received two crucial boosters this week. First, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin threw his clout behind him and, yesterday, Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil gave him a sort of restrained endorsement. Suddenly, he is looking like a possible winner again.

Hishammuddin has been explaining the perceptions formed about his role as the former Home Minister in the Lahat Datu intrusions.

At one session in Terengganu, a delegate had stood up to let loose a litany of complaints.

After the event, Hishammuddin joined the man and his friends for a smoke outside where they had a long discussion.

Sometimes, simple gestures work best and when the minister finally stood up to go, the man raised his hand and shouted several times, “Hidup, Datuk Hisham!”.

Umno election season is when there is a role reversal in the party – people on the ground become the VIPs and the VIPs have to humble themselves and go around appealing for support.

It is a good reminder that power comes from the people.

All suggestions of a pact among the incumbents have evaporated and the trio are running their own campaigns.

Sources said an Umno official from Pekan had asked Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during an Umno meeting whether the Umno president had called for a status quo vote on the VP race.

Najib had apparently said he advocates an open contest and that delegates are free to choose.

All this has added to the complexity of the VP contest, making it hard to call. It is not going to be like last Saturday where anyone could tell who would win in the Wanita and Youth contests.

Zahid aside, it will be a pretty close finish for the other two seats. Zahid has run a clever campaign, combining his tough guy image as Home Minister with that of his political image as a Malay champion. The Chinese would probably say he is enjoying some good fengshui because everything is going his way.

It is quite evident by now that the Umno establishment, namely, the top leaders as well as many of divisional heads have an affinity with the incumbents and are rooting for them.

It is not surprising because politics is very much about alliances between people who can help advance each other’s career.

Ali and Isa were part of this “big boys club” in the 2009 party election. Ali was then Malacca chief minister and Isa a federal minister. Both men are in their 60s and are basically riding on their likeability and past glories.

The question is whether all this will translate into enough votes for them to make it.

Mukhriz is a newcomer to the big game and it is no secret that some of the big boys are not ready to admit him to the club.

The Kedah Mentri Besar’s strength lies largely with the women and the younger delegates. Of the five delegates or so from each Umno branch who will be voting this Saturday, three or 60% will comprise the Wanita, Youth and Puteri branch heads.

They see him as representative of the change that the Prime Minister talks about. Again, no one can really tell if the cheers and applause that have greeted him reflect the votes he will get.

An intense campaign is about to come to an end.

Hishammuddin, who began his campaign by calling on the Sultan of Johor and visiting his grandfather’s grave, will be back in Semborong tonight. Others will return to their respective base camps for prayer sessions and to wait for the big day.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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