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“Sudah mahu sampai, tapi dia langgar lampu trafik (he was almost there but he hit the traffic light).” Begitulah apa yang berlaku kepada Ali Rustam menurut seorang Editor.

Ali’s loss is Mat Taib’s gain

Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam’s knock-out from the Umno elections has changed the entire tone of the race for the deputy presidency of Umno. The contest is now between the two Tan Sris.

DATUK Seri Mohd Ali Rustam made an early morning call on the Malacca Governor yesterday before returning to his official residence to chair an Umno meeting.

Then he changed from his formal suit into a red and white batik shirt to go to Ipoh for a gathering where Umno election candidates were scheduled to meet delegates from Perak.

The Ipoh meeting began at 3pm but before the meeting could even finish, news had trickled in that Mohd Ali had been found guilty of money politics and barred from the contest for the deputy president post.

It was an awkward moment for Mohd Ali, being among all the other candidates when he had just been disqualified as a candidate.

Speculation that he was in trouble had been in the air for several days but the reality still stunned everyone in the party. He is after all a big name in Umno.

But true to form, Umno’s Mr Likeable looked a picture of calm and smiled his way through the rest of the Ipoh function although some noticed that “his eyes looked sad.”

He had come so near the coveted prize only to see it slip out of his grasp. A less seasoned politician would have crumbled or lost his head but his composure was admirable.

As an editor of a Malay online portal said: “Sudah mahu sampai, tapi dia langgar lampu trafik (he was almost there but he hit the traffic light).”

But the penalty on Mohd Ali was rather unusual. He was not suspended like the others but was barred from contesting any post, effectively knocking him out of the race for the No 2 post.

And because he was not suspended, he can hold on to his Malacca Umno chief and division chief posts.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Mohd Ali will also remain the Chief Minister.

It is likely that some of the party’s top leaders had wind of the decision days earlier.

At a Monday night Umno gathering in Shah Alam, the other deputy president contender Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib or Mat Taib as he is known had playfully wrapped his arms around Mohd Ali much to the amusement of everyone.

It was Mat Taib’s way of defusing the tension given the media frenzy around Mohd Ali. Besides, Mat Taib knows how it feels to fall from the top; he has been through worse. But the picture of the comradely hug which was carried in some newspapers will probably be translated into several hundred votes for Mat Taib.

The party is anxious to clean up its image of money politics and it simply could not gloss over the decision meted out by the disciplinary board.

At the same time, an outright suspension would have further infuriated Mohd Ali’s support base.

As such, barring him from contesting while allowing him to keep his party posts seemed like a compromise of sorts. He was punished but not emasculated.

However, the decision has not gone down well on everyone. Mohd Ali’s supporters naturally see him as a victim and they are already lashing out at those whom they deem as responsible for their misfortune.

They see it as selective prosecution and think there are powerful people in the party who do not want him to win.

Some like vice-presidential candidate Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are already making political capital out of it.

During the Ipoh meeting, Zahid who is deputy Perak Umno chief, gave a powerful speech condemning attempts to block candidates and appealed for all candidates to be allowed to contest. His stage performance was met with deafening applause.

SMS slamming the disciplinary board have started flying around.

A great deal of anger is going to be directed at the board.

Such high emotions will prevail for a while and Mohd Ali will have to play a role in reining in his supporters.

With Mohd Ali’s fall from grace, the race has narrowed down to Mat Taib versus Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. The spotlight has swung onto the two Tan Sris.

It is no secret that many of Mohd Ali’s supporters are pointing their finger at Muhyiddin’s supporters.

Joceline Tan / thsStar

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