Is it the end of the road for Mukhriz in Kedah?


But his critics said that beneath that pleasant demeanour lies a misguided notion that he is bigger than the Umno president and that, like his father, he can also take on the Prime Minister.

Joceline Tan, The Star

SPECULATION that Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir would be ousted as Kedah Mentri Besar had been in the air for months.

However, it looks like the change has been put into motion with the political mutiny staged by an overwhelming number of Kedah Umno leaders in Alor Setar yesterday.

The group led by Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah told a packed press conference that they wanted Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to replace Mukhriz as mentri besar and Kedah Umno chief because they had lost confidence in his leadership.

Kedah is no stranger to dramatic and ruthless ousters of its mentris besar, but the latest move came as a shock to many people. Mukhriz is, after all, the son of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It seems like Mukhriz, despite his popular public image, is quite alone in his party.

Ahmad Bashah, who is the deputy Kedah Umno chief, a senator and an assemblyman, was surrounded by almost everyone who matters in Kedah Umno – division chiefs, the state heads of the three wings and several wakil rakyat. Mukhriz, who is the Jerlun division chief, was not there.

He was at a mosque event in Pendang earlier in the day when he caught wind of what was about to happen. It was very awkward and he left without speaking to reporters.

The first hint that it was for real was when Najib’s political secretary Datuk Ghazali Ibrahim arrived in Alor Setar for a closed-door meeting with Wanita heads from the divisions.

The Wanita wing is the backbone of Umno and they would need to come along if such a move was to succeed.

Ghazali is from Kedah and the deputy chief in the Padang Terap division. It was apparent that quite a lot of thinking and planning had gone into this, and it was evidently taking place with the sanction of the Umno president.

Najib, said an Umno insider, had been patient with Mukhriz throughout the whole of last year, during which Mukhriz joined forces with his father and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to slam Najib on the 1MDB issue.

“If any MB had behaved like Mukhriz during Tun Mahathir’s time, he would have been sacked long ago,” said the insider.

Relations between Najib and Mukhriz had gone downhill to such an extent that during a Deepavali event in Kulim last year, Najib could not be bothered to speak to Mukhriz.

A few months earlier, Najib had openly praised Ahmad Bashah for not making a fuss when Mukhriz was appointed mentri besar over him. Najib did this at an Umno function attended by Kedah leaders and it was to tell Mukhriz that he should grateful to be where he is today.

Umno politicians have also criticised Mukhriz for spending too much time in Kuala Lumpur, where his wife and children are, and for not delivering on his election promises.

But for Najib, the last straw was the “Saloma Bistro” incident. Mukhriz had hosted a dinner at the Malay restaurant for Kedah Umno delegates attending the party general assembly last month.

The dinner was attended by the three thorns in Najib’s side – Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal. Mukhriz had delivered a speech slamming Najib’s handling of the 1MDB issue.

It was not a savvy thing to do, given the huge support that Najib had received from the delegates when he delivered his presidential address at the Putra World Trade Centre that morning.

That was probably the moment when Najib felt that he had to remove the fourth thorn in his side.

Mukhriz has been trapped between a rock and a hard place. He has to be filial to his father while being loyal to his party president. If he was more experienced, he could have walked the fine line but it is obvious that he has chosen filial piety over political loyalty.

Of course, his supporters said he did it out of principles.

He has also said many times that he is prepared to go if he no longer has the support of the people. The soft-spoken politician is liked by ordinary Kedahans because he has brought a fresh style to Kedah politics. He has a sweet smile, he is courteous and the novelty factor is still there.

But his critics said that beneath that pleasant demeanour lies a misguided notion that he is bigger than the Umno president and that, like his father, he can also take on the Prime Minister.

They said he does not even have the support of the division chiefs, which is crucial for the success and survival of any mentri besar. He refused to play ball with them and now they want him off the team.

The buzz last evening was that Najib has had an audience with the King, who is also the Sultan of Kedah. Well, yesterday was Wednes­day and Najib usually calls on the King before his weekly Cabinet meeting.

What happened at the audience is anybody’s guess. The opportunity was there for him to seek His Majesty’s views on the impending change.

“He asked for it” was the curt opinion of one senior journalist regarding Mukhriz.

Strategically speaking, there was no way Najib would have allowed Mukhriz to stay on given the way the younger man has provoked him. Najib wants to send a stern message to the rank and file to toe the line.

Just a day before the mutiny, Mukhriz and his wife were seen cycling on the scenic country road towards Gunung Keriang.

They looked so happy but he is now fighting for his political survival. It looks like the end of the road for the 51-year-old Mukhriz.