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Najib goes for number 1! - Malaysiakini

Malaysiakini's report

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak today announced he would be contesting the Umno presidency, a day after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he would not be defending the post.

Separately, Umno information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib offered himself as a candidate for the deputy presidency amid speculation that former Youth chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi might drop out of the crowded race even before it begins.

Another heavyweight, vice-president and International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is widely expected to announce his candidacy tomorrow.

But although seen as frontrunner for the No 2 post, there is also some talk that Muhyiddin might be forced to go for broke and challenge Najib for the top post.

Party watchers believe there was currently too much competition for the deputy post, leaving Muhyiddin with little choice but to consider the top post unless some of the other candidates pulled out.

Meanwhile Muhammad (left) - better known as Mat Taib or even by his nickname of Tyson - promised to help stabilise Umno and pledged loyalty to the next president.

The Umno stalwart is the fourth prominent Umno leader to join the chase after Ahmad Zahid, vice-president and Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam and Pulai division head Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

A former Selangor chief minister, he has been regarded by insiders to be a staunch loyalist of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Abdullah had yesterday announced he would not be defending the Umno presidency, clearing the way for Najib to move up the ladder, and in turn leaving the No 2 post open to contest.

By convention, the Umno president and deputy president respectively become the country's prime minister and deputy prime minister.

Zahid may drop out

Party election for the top posts in the country's largest political party are due to be held next March, but division meetings to nominate candidates officially begin today until Nov 9.

Machang and Kimanis are reported to be among the first divisions to hold their delegate conferences tomorrow, followed by Besut on Saturday.

In the meantime, all eyes are on the 61-year-old Muhyiddin, the former Johor chief minister, who has been praised by party members for his courage in calling for reform and for Abdullah to step down in favour of Najib.

The surprise entry of Ahmad Zahid into the fray last week had sparked talk that Muhyiddin's chances might be dimmed.
ahmad zahid hamidi

Muhyiddin's supporters were upset as Najib could opt to endorse the 53-year-old minister in the Prime Minister's Department, who was his former political secretary.

"Muhyiddin might feel he could end up with nothing if Ahmad Zahid doesn't pull out," political analyst Khoo Kay Peng told Malaysiakini.

"Najib doesn't have to publicly endorse Zahid, he just needs to spread the word quietly through the grapevine and Muhyiddin's chances can be reduced."

"However, we believe there are already ongoing negotiations and if Zahid can be persuaded to drop out, then Muhyiddin will announce his candidacy for No 2," Khoo added.

Mat Taib promises stability

Nevertheless, according to Mat Taib, there has been no change as far as he knows.

"I am offering myself for the party because the position is vacant," he told Malaysiakini in a phone interview.

"I think I can contribute to the stability of the party. I think Umno needs to reinforce its strength and become a stronger party.

"I don't want to see a leadership tussle and I think I would not create an upheaval situation in the party. I am a party loyalist to all the past presidents and I will be loyal to the future president."

Born in Kampung Sungai Manggis, in Hulu Selangor, Muhammad is a graduate from Universiti Malaya and a former school teacher.

The Umno veteran, who joined the party in 1964 and was elected as vice-president and Selangor deputy state liaison committee head in 2004.

He resigned as Selangor chief minister in 1997 after being charged in Australia for holding currency worth RM3.8 million. He was found not gulity and appointed a senator in 2006 by Abdullah.

Other Umno leaders that party watchers speculated might join the No 2 bandwagon include vice-president Mohd Isa Abdul Samad and Foreign Minister Rais Yatim. -