Najib may be gathering his forces

comments     Kim Quek     Published     Updated

I refer to your report Q&A: Najib too 'guarded and calculative'.

I am not so sure that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak wouldn't mount a challenge to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's leadership. In fact, the moment of decision for Najib (to challenge or not to challenge Abdullah) may be nearer than most people think, judging from the unusual events that took place over the past few days.

On July 15, Saturday at 9 pm, PM Abdullah's plane touched down at the Subang air force base, returning him from an 18-day overseas holiday. On hand to receive him were the top guns of the MCA (president Ong Ka Ting, his deputy and ministers) but not the top guns of Umno. Conspicuously absent was deputy president Najib, who until then had been in the habit of receiving Abdullah at the airport from his overseas trips in recent months.

On Sunday, Najib took off for London for a week-long visit purportedly to visit the Farnborough International Air Show. Coincidentally, Dr Mahathir Mohamad happens to be in London at this time too. He is scheduled to return to Malaysia tomorrow. So, both Najib and Mahathir may return to Malaysia at almost the same time - on different planes, of course.

The gives rise to an intriguing question. This tussle of power between the present and former leader of Umno is publicly staged as Umno's internal affair, and Abdullah's current home- coming after a long leave at this crucial moment was supposed to be a special occasion for Umno to make a big demonstration of support and solidarity with the incumbent leader.

So is it not strange that on hand to welcome Adullah were not Umno's top leaders but the MCA's? What good reasons could there be for Najib and the other top Umno ministers to be absent for the welcoming party? And even more queer is Najib's flight to London the very next day - a Sunday - well, before his boss could return to office and resume his duties.

Surely Najib could hang on for a few more days more to update his boss after such a long absence? Under such circumstances, could anyone be blamed if he were to speculate that Najib's trip to London is for a rendezvous with his mentor, whereby he will assess his chances of success in the event of a strike for power? The outcome of that assessment will, of course, dictate his conduct upon his return home.

As for the other Umno heavyweight absentees (for the welcoming party for Abdullah), are they pulling back to a neutral ground in anticipation of a gathering storm that may transform the political landscape?

Skeptics may not think it is that easy to topple an incumbent leader, but all it takes is a one-vote majority in the supreme council of the party. In fact, it may not even come to that if the incumbent could read the writing on the wall and chooses a quiet exit. Didn't the gentlemanly Hussein Onn hand power to Mahathir in such fashion?

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