Kedah chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir suffered a blow yesterday after his Umno party's state leaders declared a loss of confidence in his leadership and demanded his removal by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Datuk Seri Mukhriz, who is the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, was accused of poor leadership by state party leaders. Many of them, as well as the party's assemblymen in the state, asked for his removal from his posts as chief minister, or Menteri Besar, and Kedah Umno liaison chief.
Party leaders, in a statement, said they have "lost trust and confidence in the leadership of Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir".
Among the reasons for the loss of trust were Mr Mukhriz's failure to unite the party leadership, the lack of strategic planning for the next general election - which must be held by August 2018 - and his failure to manage the state effectively, they said.
The statement, which was endorsed by the party's 15 state division leaders and wing leaders, was read out at a press conference yesterday by Kedah Umno deputy chairman Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.
The bid to remove Mr Mukhriz came as his father, Tun Dr Mahathir, yesterday said he had not given up his campaign to remove Datuk Seri Najib from office.
Dr Mahathir has been, for months, calling for Mr Najib to step down as prime minister to take responsibility for the mishandling of the debt-ridden state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and over an anonymous "donation" of RM2.6 billion (S$851 million) that was deposited into Mr Najib's personal bank accounts.
Mr Mukhriz, in a statement last night, responded by saying his mandate came from the people. "The people and voters can assess my administrative abilities," he said.
About 1,000 supporters of Mr Mukhriz turned up last night at the Kedah Umno headquarters, carrying banners urging that he be retained.
Political analyst Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, from Universiti Utara Malaysia in Kedah, said: "Umno likely has enough numbers to remove Mukhriz at the state assembly but the leaders are first pressuring him to resign voluntarily."
Kedah Umno's decision to turn its back on Mr Mukhriz comes a month after the party's nationwide summit, where party delegates and leaders showed their support for Mr Najib, who is the party's president.
"After Tun Dr Mahathir's attacks against Najib, in the context of Umno, they were waiting for the right time to strike back," said Universiti Selangor political analyst Shaharuddin Badaruddin.
So far, Dr Mahathir's bid to rally Umno's top leadership to topple Mr Najib has failed to gain momentum. Instead, Mr Najib, in response to internal criticism against him, reshuffled the Cabinet last July, and removed then Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was critical of Mr Najib. Mr Muhyiddin remains the party's deputy president.
As for Mr Mukhriz, Mr Azizuddin said "he has been vocal in criticising Najib on various issues, and he stood by his father's side". The move by Kedah Umno leaders to oust Mr Mukhriz was likely supported by Mr Najib's government, he added.
He said: "Without the approval from Putrajaya, there wouldn't be a press conference. They've got the blessings, and that's why this is happening," he said. Putrajaya is the federal government's administrative centre near Kuala Lumpur. "I don't think this is about Mukhriz's performance in Kedah," Mr Azizuddin said. "Najib wants someone he can trust to lead the state."