#Opinion* It has started – or has it not?

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OUT of the blue, Johor Umno leader Datuk Puad Zarkashi came up and said the two top posts in Umno should not be contested when the party holds its elections later this year. The call by Puad was carried by Umno-linked newspaper Berita Harian. And the former minister gave all the whys. That call raised many an eyebrow. Was there any talk of contest for the top two posts in the first place, to warrant Puad to come up with such a call? And as if right on cue, a few days after Puad's call, Negeri Sembilan Umno passed a no contest resolution for the post of president and deputy president. The reason being to strengthen Umno in preparation for GE14. Of course, post-GE13 talk has been centred on Datuk Seri Najib Razak – whether he would be "safe" to continue as Umno president and PM. Whether he would be challenged in Umno polls. Meanwhile, Najib himself is open to being challenged, saying: "We are a democratic party – we have to accept Umno's openness unlike certain other parties." But many in Umno feel Najib will not be challenged. Although his Barisan Nasional (BN) fared worse than Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's did in 2008, Umno did well – winning 88 seats. And Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad opined Najib would remain party president due to lack of "alternative" in the party. This despite saying much earlier, Najib will have to bear the consequences in the event of a poor BN performance. Whatever it is, an Umno strategist said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is "loyal and is not one who will challenge his boss". Muhyiddin has been low-key since the elections. Others have not. Datuk Zahid Hamidi, for example, is making headlines. For the right or wrong reasons, depending on who you talk to. His statements, thus far, have attracted controversies to say the least. And the Umno strategist admits the newly-appointed home minister "has and is scoring points among Umno members for what he is doing as minister". Knowingly or unknowingly, planned or otherwise, Zahid has managed "to show he is a strong leader, one that Umno needs, and that Umno under Najib is equally strong", according to the strategist. Something very beneficial come Umno polls. To PKR's Nurul Izzah Anwar, it is all planned, of course. To her, "Umno's internal politics is dictating the country's domestic policies", citing the recent crackdown on Opposition leaders and activists as a "clear sign Najib is looking at the Umno general assembly, addressing his key base and the internal dynamics being played out". If what the Lembah Pantai MP says is true, expect lots of statements and action from Umno leaders which will be "appealing to Umno members". The party will deny all that surely – if not already. As far as contests are concerned, so far Zahid is said to be only wanting to defend his VP position and "will not go higher". Said the strategist: "I can't be sure and we can only assume. But so far we are not hearing anything about such a thing and also nothing from meetings with grassroots as well." Zahid apart, the other vice-presidents are Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Shafei Apdal. But the race for VP can or will be a crowded field – with party strongmen like Datuk Seri Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Isa Samad possibly joining in the fray. Missing the boat this time would not do their Umno career any good. Their age being one of the considerations. Perhaps former Johor menteri besar Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman might fancy his chances after having lost the Gelang Patah seat in GE13. Khairy Jamaluddin, meanwhile, is expected to defend his post as youth chief, and his appointment as youth and sports minister will definitely carry a lot of weight. And many say the challenger will be Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, the Kedah MB – a formidable opponent. And at least one political commentator is talking about what is known as the "Menteris Besar Club". The MB Club used to be a powerful political pact as far as Umno elections went. But the club somehow "fizzled out" in recent years. Now this political commentator is saying in the event the MB Club is revived, there is a possibility all the menteris besar and chief ministers (from Umno of course) might opt for Mukhriz to be their choice for one of the VP posts. In such a scenario will Khairy decide to try to move one step up as well and join the fight for VP? Then will the current VPs, Zahid in particular, be "forced" to move a rung up and take a shot at the deputy presidency? And in turn "force" Muhyiddin to go for number one? Such a move would shred Puad's call (also, the Negeri Sembilan Umno resolution) for a no top-two post contests in Umno wouldn't it? Was Puad pre-empting everything by making such an early call? All these are speculations, posers and theories – of course. For now. But then politics is the art of the possible. So people say, so people say.