The first major step for the transition of power has begun.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s decision to hand over the Finance Minister’s post to his deputy, Mohd Najib Tun Razak, marked the first move towards the changing of guards, expected to take place by mid of 2010.

It is a testimony of Abdullah’s sincerity to keep his promise to step down by the agreed deadline.

“But it doesn’t mean that the members and UMNO grassroots have no say in the matter. They can very well reject the 2010 deadline and move it earlier,” said a senior minister’s aide.

“If there are nominations for the president post for Najib, he can’t ignore them,” he said, adding that if he did it would go against the party’s constitution.

Although the decision had been agreed upon by the supreme council members, he said, the final say lies with the members.

“They are the decision makers. The supreme council members can only make suggestions but this cannot stop UMNO divisions from nominating whoever they feel suitable for the post.

“They can even decide on the date of the transition to make it earlier,” he added.

Najib himself had repeatedly said that he would abide by the decision of members at the division meetings scheduled to begin on Oct 9.

Commenting on Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement that the transition of power should be made earlier, Najib said he would leave it to the members to decide.

Even after Abdullah’s announcement on Najib’s new ministerial post, he was noncommittal when asked how he would respond if the party's grassroots nominated him for the president post.

"We leave it to the party," he was reported saying, when asked about the possibility.

Najib’s statement had been echoed by other senior UMNO leaders. Among them were party vice-president Mohd Ali Rustam and information chief Muhammad bin Muhammad Taib.

Several political observers and a former senior editor commented that lately Najib and Muhyiddin had been talking in unison over the transition issue.

Even Abdullah himself admitted that he might step down earlier.

Speaking at a press conference after announcing Najib’s new post, he said, the leadership transition which had been agreed upon could take place much earlier. He also gave his assurance that he would not be staying on after 2010.

“The timing is flexible. If I want to go earlier, it is possible,” he added.

He said the transition plan however would depend, among others, on Najib’s performance.

A political observer said Abdullah should take the queue from UMNO president Dr Mahathir Mohamad, that a leader should not over stay their welcome.

It is the hope of all Malaysians, UMNO members and non-members alike, that the transition of power should run smoothly without any hitches. Political stability is needed with the current challenges.

It is the only guarantee that the rakyat needs. – Sept 18, 2008