Johor's chief minister caught in crossfire: The Star columnist

Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin.
Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin.PHOTO: ST FILE

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin found himself the collateral damage in the conflict between two Sri Gading Umno personalities but the state assembly could be the likely venue for him to bury rumours of a plot against him.

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - For weeks, there had been intense speculation of a plot being hatched against Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin.

The arguments surrounding the alleged plot do not really make much sense but they have refused to go away.

The whole thing has also been rather irritating for Mr Khaled.

The menteri besar post has been a hot seat and he has had his hands full trying to manage local Umno sentiments ever since Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was suspended as Umno deputy president.

But this strange episode may be laid to rest at the Johor legislative assembly which will begin its first session for the year today.

The Umno assemblymen who support Mr Khaled are expected to find ways during the debate to show that the menteri besar has their full support.

A number of them have been promoting T-shirts with the slogan "In Khaled we trust".

Some Johor journalists even think the Sultan of Johor, who will officiate at the opening of the assembly, may address the matter in an indirect way given that Mr Khaled has worked well with the Palace.

That, they think, will help to bury the issue.

It will be rather awkward for everyone and especially for the assembly Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Aziz or Mat Aziz as he is generally known.

Speculation of the anti-Khaled plot was sparked off by Mr Mat Aziz's son Shukur Mohamad in a Facebook posting where he alleged that a deputy minister from Johor was behind the move.

"The fire started in Sri Gading," said Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Samad.

The elderly but still fiery Mat Aziz was synonymous with Sri Gading where he was the Umno division chief, assemblyman and then MP for decades. Everyone in Umno still knows him as "Aziz Sri Gading".

Mr Mat Aziz, 75, gave way in 2013 to Datuk Aziz Kaprawi who is now Sri Gading MP and Deputy Transport Minister.

It is an open secret in Johor Umno circles that Mr Aziz, 57, is the deputy minister that Shukur was referring to. It is also no secret that Mr Mat Aziz and Mr Aziz have had a falling out over a variety of issues.

Unfortunately, the menteri besar has been caught in the crossfire.

An ally of Mr Muhyiddin, Mr Mat Aziz was upset over the Cabinet sacking of the former deputy prime minister.

Mr Aziz, on the other hand, is a big supporter of Datuk Seri Najib Razak and he has rejected the plot allegations as fitnah or slander.

But alliances aside, the problem between the two Sri Gading personalities may also have to do with the older man being unable to adjust to life on the sidelines.

However, as Mr Shahrir pointed out, Mr Mat Aziz was not exactly sent riding into the sunset when he made way after six terms as a wakil rakyat.

He was made the state assembly Speaker. His second wife Azizah Zakaria was picked to contest in Parit Raja, the state seat that was held by Mr Aziz.

In other words, Mr Mat Aziz gave way to Mr Aziz who gave way to Ms Azizah.

Letting go is never easy for many politicians.

The predecessor will never admit that his or her successor is doing a better job and there will always be resentment.

Moreover, Mr Mat Aziz is a tough act to follow.

He is one of those jantan or macho Malay politicians with unreserved right-wing views.

He once shocked Parliament by calling for then Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga to be executed for treason.

But he lobbied for Universiti Tun Hussein to be located in Sri Gading and gave priority to the needs of the farming community.

Mr Shukur is widely seen to be acting on behalf of his father.

Very few believe that he would have been so vocal without the blessing of his father.

When a Johor journalist telephoned Mr Mat Aziz, he pleaded ignorance about what his son was up to.

He told the journalist he hadn't spoken to his son about it even though the issue was the talk among Umno members.

As far as the journalist was concerned, the denial spoke volumes because it was highly improbable that father and son had not discussed such a hot issue.

What happened has been likened to a storm in a teacup but some say there is no smoke without fire.

"People say the trees would not rustle if there is no wind but when there are monkeys up in the trees, the leaves will also rustle. Why give credence to claims posted on Facebook?" said Mr Shahrir.

Mr Aziz was the real target of the father-and-son pair but the menteri besar suffered collateral damage.

"The MB is annoyed but he is not shaken," said the above journalist.

The irony is that Mr Khaled's own son Akmal Saufi Khaled had also caused ripples last year with his critique of Mr Najib and the 1MDB issue.

Back then, some had tried to associate those views with the mentri besar.

Mr Khaled is an old hand in politics, but he had been in federal politics before he landed the mentri besar post.

The southern state has more than its share of big personalities and highly-qualified Malay politicians within minds of their own.

Mr Khaled is reserved and serious by nature and he is still building alliances as the Johor Umno chief.

However, he has managed to negotiate the choppy waters in the aftermath of Mr Muhyiddin's sacking and he has a good rapport with the Sultan.

The same journalist even rated Khaled's working relationship with the Palace as "10/10".

Mr Khaled was among a delegation that the Sultan flew in his private jet to Sri Lanka recently and he will next be travelling with the Tuanku to Australia.

The menteri besar is up against the biggest opposition bench that Johor has ever had but sometimes, the enemy within is harder to tackle.

It is time for him to end all that speculation about a plot to topple him.