Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (pic) must be a happy man – he got the loudest cheers at three party-organised campaign gatherings, and he was not even present.
Each time his name was announced, there was thunderous applause for the tough-talking vice-president at gatherings in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak yesterday.
However, the reception of his running mates in the race to fill in the three Umno vice-presidents' posts were mixed.
At the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, the Rural and Regional Development Minister, got a wildly loud reception, but for Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein the response was lukewarm when his name was announced.
Shafie lapped it up and waved to the packed hall. Hishammuddin was not present.
The candidates were not allowed to make speeches but they could mingle with members after the introductions.
The reception must have been comforting for Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, who got equally boisterous cheers, as did former Malacca chief minister Datuk Seri Ali Rustam.
Mukhriz said the new voting format meant that instructions from the leadership would not necessarily translate into votes for Ahmad Zahid, Shafie and Hishamuddin, the incumbent trio said to be endorsed by party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“There is a difference in the way we elect our leaders before and now. We now have some 146,000 voters and you can give instructions, but if the members don’t follow, it's not going to work,” he said, referring to new voting arrangements by the party.
About 146,000 grassroots delegates will vote for their leaders in the polls, as opposed to the mere 2,500 delegates who got to choose party leaders in the past in the triennial elections.
Mukhriz and Ali were mobbed as they made their rounds. Many requested photo sessions with them, while some were seen uploading the pictures on Facebook.
But it would seem Ahmad Zahid was the only one to be gaining ground among the party's 191 divisions in the run-up to the October 19 party polls. On the other hand, his fellow incumbents Hishammuddin and Shafie are believed to be trailing in the six-man race.
Ahmad Zahid has garnered pledges of support from about 130 divisions as he travelled across the country in his quest to keep his party post. The popular Home Minister is admired by Umno members for his stern and decisive stand in tackling current issues such as rising crime.
Only recently, he confronted opposition lawmakers in Parliament over the controversial amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act, which provides for detention without trial.
Yesterday's two-hour session at Putra World Trade Centre started after 9pm. Supporters wearing badges of their candidates distributed materials while pitching their bosses to members.
It was a carnival mood, with one side drama related to the contest for the top Wanita post, which was a talking point among delegates.
On stage, Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was kept apart from her closest challenger, Pahang Wanita chief Datuk Maznah Mazlan. Both were careful to avoid each other later when they worked the crowd. The other challenger is Raihan Suleiman Palestin.
The session in Kuala Lumpur was the third after earlier programmes in Perak and Selangor.
While the turnout was poor in Perak, it was strong at the Selangor Umno headquarters in Shah Alam.
Other notable absentees at the event in Kuala Lumpur last night were veteran politician Tan Sri Isa Abdul Samad who is running for vice-president, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin who is defending his post, and Khairy's challenger, Akhramsyah Sanusi Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah.
The campaign meetings will continue tomorrow in Kelantan at 9.30am, followed by one in Terengganu at 3.30pm and another in Pahang at 9pm.
Candidates will have three more sessions on Tuesday in Malacca, Johor and Negeri Sembilan, before meetings with delegates in Sabah and Perlis on Wednesday. On Friday it will be Kedah and Penang. – October 5, 2013.