FEDERAL Territories Minister Isa Abdul Samad and Malacca Chief Minister Ali Rustam grabbed the two top spots in the Umno vice-presidential race yesterday, emerging as shock winners during a night filled with uncertainty.
Agriculture Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the early favourite and a leader widely seen as favoured by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was pushed to the third spot in the seven-way race.
The Umno vice-presidential contest is closely watched as one of the three incumbents is next in line should the post of deputy party leader fall vacant. The Umno deputy president traditionally also is the deputy prime minister.
This year's race was marred by allegations of vote-buying despite a clampdown on 'money politics' by PM Abdullah.
In the run-up to the election yesterday, there was widespread talk that one vice-presidential candidate was hauled up by the party's disciplinary board for engaging in vote buying.
The outcome last night was also seen by some as a blow to the prestige of PM Abdullah, who has given priority to Tan Sri Muhyiddin's ministry to spearhead the drive to wipe out poverty in rural areas where there are many Malay farmers and fishermen.
The victory scored by Tan Sri Isa and Datuk Seri Ali created quite a stir within party ranks, as they were not the early favourites.
'This is a shock as it is not what had been expected by many people,' said a Kuala Lumpur Umno leader.
In the weeks running up to yesterday's voting, incumbent vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin was widely deemed to be the clear favourite. Another incumbent, former Selangor menteri besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib was given a more-than-even chance of retaining his seat.
The results of the election yesterday at 10.30pm capped a night of uncertainty. It was originally slated to be announced at 6pm and there was further confusion after one private television station two hours later reported that the announcement would be postponed till today.
But at around 9.30pm, an SMS flashing the results made its rounds among Umno members at the Putra World Trade Centre and the media.
This created a buzz among the hundreds of party members who were attending a dinner with PM Abdullah at the conference building.
'This is unfair as we want to know the results tonight,' said a woman Umno leader from Selangor. 'Win or lose, we want to know.'
The meeting hall was filled with about 2,000 party members and dozens of media representatives when the results were announced by Umno permanent chairman Datuk Seri Onn Ismail, to loud cheers from supporters of Tan Sri Isa and Datuk Seri Ali.
Said Tan Sri Isa: 'I think the Umno delegates are always very mature and they would have made the right choice. I was never surprised. It was the press who was surprised.' He said he felt overwhelming support as he went around to campaign in the run-up to the vote.
Datuk Seri Ali, who said he was elated by his victory, was asked whether there was any vote buying in the elections.
He replied: 'Whether there was any money politics or not, it was something subjective. I feel they were not grave enough to warrant concern. At the most, there were just a few invitations to dinner. It is up to you whether you want to eat or not.'
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"