KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam's dream of becoming the next deputy prime minister came to an abrupt end yesterday after three of his "agents" were allegedly found guilty of being involved in money politics in the run-up to Umno's party elections next week.
Besides the Melaka Chief Minister, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin was also among 15 candidates found "guilty" by the party's disciplinary board, but he was only given a warning.
Another bigwig hauled up by the disciplinary board was former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, who is also contesting for the Pemuda chief seat. Khir was cleared of all the charges, including money politics, improper campaign agents' conduct and rules relating to the meeting of delegates.
The penalties ranged from warnings to three-year suspensions. Including Khir, another 14 were cleared of various charges. Only Ali Rustam will not be contesting in the polls next week.
Others found guilty were Datuk Japlin Akim @ Abd Hamid (Kota Belud), Salmah Pin (Bandar Tun Razak), Mohamad Najuib Mohamad Shahaimi (Maran), Datuk Mokhtar Samad (Bandar Tun Razak), Datuk Abdul Manan Ismail (Paya Besar), Amran Mat (Kuala Krai), Mohd Zuki Mohd Zain (Gua Musang), Datuk Md Sohaimi Mohamed Shah (Paya Besar), Mohd Zaili Besar (Paya Besar) and Shohaimi Jusoh (Paya Besar).
Though Mohd Ali escaped with a "light" sentence in view of the lack of evidence linking him to money politics, the penalty dished out by the disciplinary board has ruled him out of next week's party polls.
Speaking to reporters at the party headquarters yesterday, the disciplinary board's chairman Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen Tengku Ismail said the Umno vice president was found guilty of Rule 10.1 of the party code of ethics.
Rule 10.1 refers to election offences committed by a candidate's agents or lobbyists. According to the disciplinary board's legal adviser, Hafarizan Harun, "perception that the candidate is linked to an agent who has broken campaign rules is sufficient for the board to him guilty".
"Mohd Ali was not found guilty of money politics per se but some of his agents or lobbyists were at fault on the matter, and under Rule 10.1, the perception that he or his agents were involved is sufficient for us to find him guilty," said Tengku Rithaudeen.
"Among some of the agents are his political secretary Saadun Basirun and Bukit Katil division members Rosli Hasan and Zalina Ismail."
The trio, all of whom are Bukit Katil Umno exco members, were found guilty of money politics and other various campaign offences. All three were suspended for three years with effect from March 12 or one election term.
As a result of the red card, the deputy president's battle will now see a straight contest between International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Rural and Regional Development Minister Tan Sri Muhamad Muhd Taib.
Muhyiddin is now the leading candidate to secure the party's number two spot and by convention, the deputy prime minister's post.
According to a recent survey by Universiti Malaya, 54% of 2,030 respondents (including only 163 Umno delegates) picked Ali Rustam to be the deputy president.
Although, the Bukit Baru assemblyman could appeal to the party Supreme Council, the little time left between now and next week's polls leaves him in a precarious position. He is expected to hold a press conference in Melaka at 8am tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Khairy, the Rembau Member of Parliament and the son-in-law of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, could count himself lucky.
Although, guilty of the same rule, which ended the third term chief minister's bid, Khairy was only handed a warning and would still contest in the Umno Youth chief race next week.
Elaborating on the different sentences meted out, Hafarizan said although there was no direct evidence linking Khairy to any lobbyist, "even the iota of proof we have is enough to find him guilty".
"The circumstances between Mohd Ali and Khairy were also different," said Tengku Rithaudeen. "Although, both were guilty of the same rule, the seriousness of the agents' offence between the two put them poles apart.
On one extreme was the usage of money while the other may have only been restricted to "makan-makan", Tengku Rithaudeen added.