People

Kedah leader's low-key climb to the top

Kedah's new Menteri Besar, Mr Bashah (above), had been widely tipped for the post after helping Umno wrest back control from PAS in the 2013 general election. However, when the position went to former PM Mahathir's son Mukhriz instead, Mr Bashah won
Kedah's new Menteri Besar, Mr Bashah (above), had been widely tipped for the post after helping Umno wrest back control from PAS in the 2013 general election. However, when the position went to former PM Mahathir's son Mukhriz instead, Mr Bashah won credit for giving way.PHOTO: NEW STRAITS TIMES

State's new MB rises above jibes about his lack of education, habit of dozing off

Kedah's new Menteri Besar Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah lost his father when he was 22 years old.

The elder of two sons, he took it upon himself to look after the family and make sure his younger siblings all had a university education.

Datuk Seri Bashah himself never went to university and got married only at 35, considered a late age for Malays.

Much fuss has been made by his critics about Mr Bashah's lack of academic qualifications.

On the day he became Menteri Besar, one of his daughters, Ms Azira Hafiza Ahmad Bashah, said in a Facebook posting she was proud of her father despite the "sleepy" and "lowly educated" labels slung at him.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE

He is the kind of leader Kedahans call 'hemoi'.

When he goes to a kenduri (feast), the first thing he does is go to the cooking area and greet those who are working when others are celebrating. He is considered sociable, populist, a leader very much in tune with the local community.

MR EEKMAL AHMADHIS, Mr Bashah's rival during the 2008 general election who is also an Alor Star native, on Kedah's new Menteri Besar.

"He (Bashah) had to take care of his siblings. He worked odd jobs after his father passed away. He sold eggs, durians and even worked as an assistant lorry driver," said Ms Azira, who has three sisters.

Mr Bashah himself dismissed the criticism by saying that "my university is Umno because it educated me and helped me mature".

The 65-year-old has been in politics for nearly 40 years. He learnt the ropes from his father, who was Kedah Umno treasurer, and has remained very much a local politician.

He has held a variety of roles within the state Umno structure, rising through the ranks from Alor Star youth leader to Kedah chief.

Having won state assembly seats for the fifth term running and holding state Cabinet positions for two terms, the Bakar Bata representative is regarded as a Kedah warlord.

"He is the kind of leader Kedahans call 'hemoi'," his 2008 general election rival Eekmal Ahmad, also an Alor Star native, told The Straits Times.

He then explained the expression: "When he goes to a kenduri (feast), the first thing he does is go to the cooking area and greet those who are working when others are celebrating. He is considered sociable, populist, a leader very much in tune with the local community."

Even when his critics, including his predecessor Mukhriz Mahathir, alleged he had a habit of dozing off at important functions - including at his own swearing-in and his first official function as Menteri Besar with Prime Minister Najib Razak - Mr Bashah refused to rise to the bait, saying only he was "hurt" by photos taken when his eyes were closed.

Mr Bashah's stature in the northern state was underlined by his leadership of the rebellion against Datuk Seri Mukhriz that began on Jan 20, and his eventual ascent to Kedah's top post. All this despite reports that he was not favoured by the influential Kedah palace.

While there are more powerful figures in the state such as former menteri besar Mahdzir Khalid, who is Education Minister and widely regarded as the "go-to" person for Kedah Umno grassroots in times of need, Mr Bashah is credited with galvanising the state machinery after Umno lost Kedah to the opposition Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS) in the 2008 general election.

Mr Bashah was first appointed deputy state chief to Umno vice- president Shafie Apdal in 2009, when Mr Najib sent senior national leaders to lead states where the party had performed badly. But the strategy was abandoned in 2011 and Mr Bashah was promoted to head the state. By default, he was widely expected to become Menteri Besar should Umno wrest back control from PAS.

But success in the 2013 general election came with concessions being made to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose son, Mr Mukhriz, became Menteri Besar.

Mr Bashah's willingness to step aside for Mr Mukhriz only improved his image within the party, and he has been belatedly rewarded for it. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Kedah leader's low-key climb to the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe