PETALING JAYA - The battle for the Umno vice-presidency is set to be a cliffhanger with only one clear winner in sight - incumbent Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, which leaves the other five candidates fighting for the two remaining spots.
The odds appear to be even for the five vying to be the second echelon in Umno.
While many are predicting that Dr Ahmad Zahid will easily secure one of the three positions, the large number of voting delegates - totalling 146,500 - has made it hard to predict who will fill the two remaining slots.
Last Saturday's elections saw delegates give sweeping victories to Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Wanita head Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, leaving the impression that the power of incumbency may favour Dr Ahmad Zahid as well as Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.
However, the overwhelming response by delegates towards Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Datuk Seri Ali Rustam at the party's meet-the-candidates roadshow suggests that there could be changes to the status quo.
While Mukhriz, Ali and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad may be the challengers, they are all political heavyweights, making the outcome tough to predict.
Mukhriz is the youngest of the six candidates and is seen as the face of change in Umno. The popularity of his father Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also helped his campaign.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who was the top vice-president in the 2009 Umno election, is riding a wave of popularity after his tough and no-nonsense stance on crime.
Hishammuddin is credited with heading the committee that introduced the new election format giving an opportunity to more party members to decide on the leadership.