Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir will run for the Umno vice-presidency and is expected to inform party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak this evening of his decision.
With that, there will be at least three challengers to incumbents Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal despite appeals by Najib to keep the status quo.
The Malaysian Insider understands Mukhriz's father and Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has given his blessings for the Kedah Mentri Besar's bid.
"He's going for it after getting the backing from Kedah Umno," a party leader from the rice bowl state told The Malaysian Insider.
"In fact, we told him there is no need to inform the party president but he decided that there must be some courtesy," the leader added.
Apart from Kedah Umno, Mukhriz is expected to get support from Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's supporters, who are all in the Mahathir camp in the party.
The increasing support for the 48-year-old could make him the strongest among the challengers for the three vice-president spots. Of the other two challengers, Tan Sri Isa Samad has an advantage being the Felda chairman while Datuk Seri Ali Rustam is popular but might not get enough support.
"Najib talks about a transformational government and Mukhriz represents that. That is why we also need a contest to ensure transformation," another party leader said.
Party insiders said a Mukhriz victory could cost Hishammuddin his place in the party line-up as the Defence Minister is seen as the weakest of the three vice-presidents.
"Hishammuddin needs to shore up his support as it is. Mukhriz is a real threat," one insider said.
It is understood that if Mukhriz wins one of the vice-president spots, there is a good chance that he would be party deputy president and even deputy prime minister by the next general election which must be held by 2018.
"Mukhriz's run for the vice-presidency now is to ensure he can get a shot at the top post ahead of Khairy Jamaluddin," the party insider added, referring to the Umno Youth chief who beat Mukhriz to the post in the last party elections.
Mukhriz told the media yesterday that he will make an announcement about his candidacy tomorrow, after a meeting last night when he was endorsed by Kedah Umno leaders.
In recent days, party president Najib has been sending out feelers to party delegates and power brokers that he would like the current slate of Umno vice-presidents to be returned at the upcoming party polls.
Mukhriz's father, Dr Mahathir, had said the party needs renewal and younger leaders, in what was seen as a call to party veterans to allow Mukhriz and those his age to move up the ranks.
It is understood that Najib has also been talking about renewal and the need for younger leaders to step up although he has thrown his tacit support behind the likes of Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil to keep their party posts.
Nominations are on September 28 while the elections are on October 19. The party’s assembly will be held in December 2013. - September 18, 2013.