Tan SriRafidah Aziz and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil will be coming face to face for the first time since the Umno nominations race began and some are expecting a showdown.
It has been one long nasty shock for Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz over the last few weeks.
The Wanita Umno chief and her supporters have watched in disbelief as one division after another endorsed her deputy Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil for the No.1 post.
Shahrizat now has the luxury of either defending her post as Wanita No.2 or challenging Rafidah for the No.1 post.
Both women have assiduously avoided the media since the start of the nominations race and it is anyone’s guess whether the June exit plan for Rafidah stays or if there will be a fight for the Wanita leadership.
Today, the Wanita exco meeting will see the two in the same room for the first time since the nominations began. Some expect a stormy session because Rafidah is naturally upset that her transition plan has been turned upside down whereas Shahrizat is feeling bolder now that she has proof of her support on the ground.
Shahrizat has secured about 40% of the nominations for the wing’s No.1 post and Rafidah the other 60%.
Some have said, she might have even outdone Rafidah had she campaigned for it. Instead, Shahrizat had told her supporters to support the transition plan.
But the writing is on the wall. It is clear that Umno’s senior ladies are not hot about the transition plan which would have seen Rafidah making way for Shahrizat three months after the Umno elections in March.
It not that they have turned against Rafidah. Many of them have nothing but respect for the Iron Lady but they simply do not see the point of the three-month extension for Rafidah. It makes no sense in the larger scheme of things.
Besides, her original rationale for staying on no longer holds water. She had said she wanted to avert a fight for the top posts and help Wanita recover from the election losses. Instead, her staying on may now cause a fight and a split.
On top of that, several Wanita leaders, among them Sabah Wanita chief Senator Datuk Armani Mahiruddin, have openly urged Rafidah to go in March.
For that, Armani received a strongly-worded SMS from Rafidah which is now being circulated among the Wanita members.
It is obvious that Rafidah has not been getting honest feedback from her loyalists about the transition plan which, like the one for the main party, was unpopular from the start.
For instance, said Bukit Bintang Wanita chief Mariany Mohd Yit, Wanita members in her division were unhappy when she explai-ned the plan to them.
“But we did not want to be a wet blanket, so we went along with it. They didn’t like it either when Shahrizat asked not to be nominated for the top post. They ignored her request and at our Wanita division AGM, Shahrizat was the unanimous choice for Wanita leader. The grassroots voice is very powerful this year,” said Mariany.
Initially, the nominations for Shahrizat were aimed at giving her some sort of political insurance. But now, there is a real groundswell for her to seize the moment.
She is still reluctant to fight and some of the women have told her that if she is going to continue “hiding under Rafidah’s skirt”, they would give their support to Datuk Kamilia Ibrahim, an outspoken lawyer who has won enough nominations to contest the No.2 post.
So what will happen when Rafidah and Shahrizat come face to face on Monday?
Rafidah will probably continue to justify the June transition by pointing out that she has twice as many nominations as Shahrizat. She would have no trouble getting her loyalists in the exco to insist that the plan stays.
Rafidah, despite her brave front, does not relish the prospect of a fight. She is no fool. At 64, she knows her time is up and she is aware she will have trouble taking on a younger woman who has undeniable clout among the members.
Even Rafidah’s supporters are said to be in two minds about a contest because it would be hard to justify to the ground why Rafidah should stay another term in a post she has held for more than 20 years.
The point is, Rafidah has overstayed her years at the top.
Rafidah should have taken a leaf from her former mentor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and stepped down when she was at a high.
Shahrizat is, meanwhile, probably still hoping that Rafidah will back out.
The nominations for her have turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the endorsements are proof that she is the ladies’ preferred successor. On the other hand, she is now under great pressure to respect the grassroots wish for a March handover.
Shahrizat made a press statement recently saying she still respected the Wanita transition plan but that she wished to discuss the current situation with Rafidah and the wing. It was a neither-here-nor-there type of explanation.
Rafidah may be feeling cornered but Shahrizat is the one stuck with the tough decision, unable to make up her mind whether she wants the Wanita leadership handed to her on a platter or make a fight for it.
Today’s meeting is unlikely to see both women reaching a decision on something so major but it will set the stage for what is to come.