THE United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) ended its annual assembly yesterday with delegates hailing the meeting's momentous achievement in resolving the succession issue, which had prompted speculation of a damaging power struggle at the top. However, not everyone at the meeting was persuaded the matter was settled. The first step in defusing the potentially explosive issue was taken last Thursday when the deputy president and Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, reaffirmed his loyalty to the president and Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and told his followers not to waste time nominating him for the presidency ahead of next year's UMNO elections. Then, the next day, Dr Mahathir said he was touched by Mr Anwar's stand and hinted at an early retirement to make way for his designated successor. Finally, delegates unanimously resolved to 'maintain and continue with' the leadership status quo. 'With the problem behind us, we can now concentrate on organising programmes that will benefit the party and indulge in less politics,' a member of the party's women's wing said. But observers were left with the impression they had been watching a traditional shadow play, where the images of puppets, manipulated by hidden hands, are cast on a screen by the light of a lantern. The storylines tend to have many meanings, like events at the UMNO meeting. While Dr Mahathir for the first time foreshadowed his retirement, noting he was 70 and had served as prime minister for 14 years, he was imprecise about when that would take place. When asked if the general assembly resolution supporting the leadership status quo meant he would pass on the top post to his successor in 1997 - the party election would be held in November next year - Dr Mahathir said he was not making any commitments. And while UMNO's permanent chairman, Sulaiman Ninam Shah, said the resolution meant there would not be a contest for the top two posts next year, he acknowledged that under the party constitution anyone could legally stand for the posts. The resolution was not legally binding, he said, but anyone who went against it would be a traitor. However, treachery is not unknown in UMNO - the dominant partner in the ruling National Front coalition - which has seen bitter fights for power between erstwhile friends in its 49-year history. The possibility of a power struggle is now supposed to be quashed. But some veteran UMNO observers say they will wait to see what happens in the months leading up to next year's party elections before they agree with the delegates that the problem is now behind them.