An hour before the UMNO supreme council meeting on Friday, several reporters and party members were eagerly waiting at the 4th floor of Putra World Trade Centre. There were rumours that party president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would announce a decision which would change earlier plans.

The hour-long meeting was not a disappointment, but it was what was expected – postponement of party polls to March next year.

Political observers agreed that this was a sign for Abdullah to hand over his premiership to his deputy Mohd Najib Tun Razak earlier than the June 2010 deadline.

In not so many words, party vice-president Muhyiddin Yassin had indicated the much anticipated move.

“Pak Lah has magnanimously taken everything into consideration. We can see that he has given priority to the party and to the members who have voiced various views,” he was reported saying.

Muhyiddin was also full of praise for Abdullah, which he had heavily criticized earlier, on the transition power plan.

“He is now a leader who has put the party’s interests before other interests,” he added.

A senior political editor said that Abdullah understood the feelings on the ground.

“But as a Malay gentleman, it is not wise to force him out as this can be construed as a kurang ajar move in the Malay culture. He is a responsible leader, and he knows what to do in this situation,” he said.

Being a hardcore UMNO leader and member, Abdullah, he added, would do the right thing.

“He will make the responsible move, and would not stay a minute longer at the top if he feels that his presence will damage the credibility and the strength of the party,” he said.

However, a senior aide to a minister said if Abdullah ignored the calls by members, he would drag the party into a bigger predicament.

“What if there are nominations for Najib as president? Najib cannot brush aside such calls from the grassroots. At this point of time, UMNO must avoid any contest for the top posts, because it is facing a lot of challenges from the opposition as well as from Barisan Nasional component members,” he added.

He said Najib would also not be comfortable in such a situation, but he had no choice.

“If Najib failed to adhere to the calls by members, there may be other nominations which would exclude the deputy from the number two post,” he added.

Another political observer felt that the decision to postpone the party polls was a clear indication that Abdullah would adhere to the calls made by the supreme council members, and the grassroots leaders.

“That is why only the party polls at the national level is postponed while the division polls will continue as planned,” he added.

The move, he said, was a win-win situation for both Abdullah and Najib.

“Abdullah will not face such a negative send off, and the transition plan is much earlier than the set date. Abdullah will have his image and UMNO members now feel the leaders are listening to them,” he added.

Now, all eyes and ears are on Oct 9, the day when all questions are expected to be answered once and for all.