PETALING JAYA (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Prime minister cum Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak appointed defence minister cum Umno vice president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as the special functions minster, triggering widespread speculations among the public.
Najib's decision couldn't have been made on the spur of the moment but after some thorough considerations.
This announcement has messed up the plans of many, especially with the general elections just around the corner, many would tend to ask what on earth Najib is trying to do.
The opposition camp was the first to jump to the conclusion that Najib no longer trusts his deputy, Ahmad Zahid. Other assumptions include Najib bowing out after the 14th general election.
Some even theorised that three months after Daim Zainuddin was offered the same post by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was removed from office. These people seem to imply that Ahmad Zahid may not stay on for too long.
Umno leadership, including both Najib and Hisham, have promptly refuted the rumours, insisting that the appointment has been suggested and approved by Zahid.
Hishammuddin has been staying low since the eruption of the 1MDB scandal and the appointment of another VP Ahmad Zahid as the DPM, focusing instead on his departmental duties and services to his constituents in a bid to evade any possible clash with Zahid.
Having said that, this appointment will most definitely have a major impact on the party. It has been learned that the following three scenarios might have already emerged within Umno:
- Najib's hardcore supporters believe that the boss wants to help Hisham consolidate the forces within the party, and they have urged party members to support the PM's move and not to create more trouble.
- Zahid's supporters begin to get a little nervous.
- Some in the party may be prepared to create problems between the second and third in line for their own gains. These people may not necessarily be the supporters of Zahid or Hisham.
Pursuant to this, the many vacant seats in the upcoming party elections such as deputy president, vice presidents and supreme council members, are bound to see tough fights. Second-tier leaders keen to make rapid rises in the hierarchy are about to jump into action by running for these posts.
Rural and regional development minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is among the first to display his ambition, ready to contest in the VP race against the party's information chief Annuar Musa.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin is another prospective contender as he harnesses the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) inter-departmental strategy platform to pile up his own influences.
Khairy is vastly popular among young Malays, and is a black horse not to be downplayed.
Apparently Najib has wanted to use this new position to help Hisham ascend the hierarchical ladder not only to ensure a smooth transition in the future but also to balance out rival factional forces in the party. By clearly telling the world who the number one, two and three are, he is effectively minimising the resistance Hisham may face.
There have been talks about Hisham's new duties. When announcing the appointment, Najib only said Hisham would execute duties outside his defence portfolio, and it was later said that he would assist DPM and international affairs. From what many believe, he would be responsible for specific affairs involving China, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, while Najib and Zahid would concentrate on domestic affairs and prepare for the soon-to-come general elections.
Anyway, Hisham's appointment as special functions minister is not going to be just this simple.
When Taib Mahmud stepped down as Sarawak Chief Minister in 2014, all allegations made against him suddenly calmed down. His successor Adenan Satem led the state Barisan Nasional (BN) to a landslide win in the subsequent state elections. Time will tell whether Najib plans to do the same in West Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Hisham himself is well aware that there is still a very long journey in front of him. He will have to maintain a very close working relationship with leaders at various levels, including the DPM, in order to win their approval.
Najib's move could only be a new beginning.