Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, 23rd September 2008: 

Abdullah fights for his political life – will Najib "sink or swim" with him?

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided to fight for his political life.

The question is who will be the protagonists in the looming royal battle in UMNO – and what are the stakes involved.

Will the protagonists in the Umno Presidential battle be Abdullah vs Najib, or will Najib "sink or swim" with Abdullah in a Abdullah-Najib battle against the rest?

What are the stakes involved? This question would be obtuse or even stupid in the past five decades when whoever is Umno President is automatically the Prime Minister.

But this is no more the case after the two political tsunamis in the past six months - the first in the general election of March 8 and second in the Permatang Pauh by-election on August 26.

As a result, the battle to be the Umno President at the end of the year is no more automatically about who is to be the next Prime Minister but probably the next Parliamentary Opposition Leader.

Although Umno Information Chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib Monday yesterday slammed as "opportunists" those who leaked information on matters discussed in the party's supreme council meeting (which includes Muhammad himself), the facts remain uncontradicted that at last Thursday's Umno Supreme Council meeting, Abdullah was pressured to have a quicker exit plan and not wait until mid-2010 according to his earlier power transition plan with Najib.

Rafidah (who joined Muhyiddin Yassin, Hishammuddin Hussein and Shafie Apdal to pressure Abdullah to fast-forward the transition plan to hand power to Najib) even warned that Abdullah might not even be able to secure the minimum 58 nominations (i.e. 30 per cent) required to defend his Umno presidency.

Abdullah was openly pressured to make known his intentions by October 9 when Umno divisions begin nominating candidates for the Umno polls in December.

Two events yesterday marked the Abdullah decision to go for broke in the Umno party polls after a three-day panic of the Abdullah camp over the "palace revolt" at Thursday's Umno Supreme Council meeting.

The first was the public pledge of support for the beleaguered Abdullah by Penang Umno, calling on all the 193 divisions not to rock the boat and honour the 2010 power transition plan.

This is most ironic as it was the Penang Umno which had done the most damage to the credibility, authority and legitimacy of Abdullah as Umno President and Prime Minister with its open defiance and contempt of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in giving full backing to Datuk Ahmad Ismail in the "Chinese are penumpang" furore – which has now been aggravated by the presence of Ahmad Ismail at the Penang Umno meeting and press conference as "UMNO Bukit Bendera adviser" although suspended for three years as Umno member.

Abdullah's statement in Kota Baharu yesterday that Umno grassroots members want the strengthening of the spirit of consensus in the party in line with the leadership transition plan in 2010 was the second indication of his decision to go for broke in the Umno party polls.

Hence, the Singapore Business Times report "Abdullah may seek re-election as Umno chief", viz:

MUCH to the surprise of political pundits here, Malaysia's embattled Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is likely to seek re-election as president of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) - the position that carries the prime ministership.

Party officials say Mr Abdullah, 67, made the decision at the weekend after huddling with party allies and family members including his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, the deputy chief of Umno's youth wing.

'OK, we won't get that many nominations,' an Abdullah ally told BT. 'But I think we should be able to get 70 to 80 with some work.' A challenger for the presidency needs at least 58 nominations from the party's 191 divisions nationwide.

But not all Umno officials think that Mr Abdullah can pull off re-election. At a meeting of Umno state liaison chiefs last Thursday, at least two of his loyalists - Johor Chief Minister Ghani Othman and his Pahang counterpart Adnan Yaakub - told him they can no longer control their divisions, which are likely not to nominate him.

And at an Umno Supreme Council meeting later, at least four senior members suggested in strong language that Mr Abdullah not seek re-election lest he be humiliated by a lack of nominations.

The meeting ended abruptly after Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said he would settle the leadership transition in talks with Mr Abdullah.

Malaysianinsider has its report "Pak Lah set to defend Umno presidency" :

Barring a last-minute turnaround, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will go ahead and defend his position as Umno party president, despite some pressure from the ground for him to short-circuit his transition plan.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that the Prime Minister reached this decision after meeting several Umno supreme council members, state liaison chiefs and political operatives over the weekend at his official residence Sri Perdana.

The consensus among this group, which includes Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Mansor, is that Abdullah should be able to garner the minimum 58 nominations needed to contest the top post. Abdullah's supporters said that with the green light from him, they will hit the ground and conduct a no-holds-barred campaign for the next few weeks to ensure that he gets the nominations when Umno divisions begin their divisional meetings.

This decision by Abdullah to defend his party president's position will come as a surprise to many, especially those in Datuk Seri Najib Razak's camp. During the supreme council meeting on Thursday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, Datuk Rafidah Aziz and Datuk Shafie Apdal urged Abdullah to hand over the reins to Najib soon, with Rafidah saying that the PM will face difficulty getting the minimum number of nominations.

Hearing this feedback, many party officials and political pundits expected him to announce that he would not contest the party elections.

But instead of demoralising Abdullah and his supporters, the attack by Hishammuddin and others had the opposite effect. Abdullah's camp felt that despite being magnanimous by handing over the Finance portfolio and even suggesting during a press conference that he would hand over power to Najib much earlier than 2010, he was being pushed to the wall.

A senior party official told The Malaysian Insider: "You can push someone up to a point only. After that it becomes humiliating. So it is rubbish to say that Pak Lah will be humiliated if he contests the party elections. Some people are already trying to do this. He has nothing to lose by keeping to the original transition plan.''

This decision will spook the DPM and his supporters. Najib can ill-afford an all-out battle for the party presidency. With his strong support base on the ground he will be the favourite to get more nominations than Abdullah but it will come at a great cost to him and his desire to lead a united party.

As such, Najib is likely to support Abdullah's desire to contest the party elections, knowing that a no-holds-barred contest will damage both of them badly.

Where does Najib really stand in the UMNO power stakes.

Clearly the affairs of state and the worsening multiple crisis of confidence which had been neglected for more than six months since the March 8 political tsunami will have to continue to occupy peripheral attention while the Umno leaders slug it out for the next three months - whether for Prime Minister or Opposition Leader.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor