Umno has presented "several suggestions" to the Kedah palace to replace Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir, Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday, as the Malaysian ruling party takes another step to oust the political heir to former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Hours earlier, Datuk Seri Najib had an audience with the chairman of the northern state's Regency Council, Tan Sri Tunku Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah.
"I informed him of several suggestions on behalf of Umno," Mr Najib told a news conference, but refused to give further details.
The council, made up of the Kedah Sultan's two brothers and only daughter, has a say in top appointments in the state.
The move to replace Datuk Seri Mukhriz comes after 14 out of 15 Umno divisions in Kedah withdrew support for him last week, citing his weak leadership that had stalled the state's economy. Only the Jerlun division, which is headed by Mr Mukhriz, remains loyal.
Kedah, Malaysia's biggest rice- planting state, is mainly known in the country for its Langkawi tourist island and industrial output from Sungai Petani and Kulim towns.
The plan to topple Mr Mukhriz is seen as retribution by Mr Najib as the Kedah chief minister has all along been supporting his father Tun Dr Mahathir, a harsh critic of the Prime Minister. Mr Najib, having weathered a year-long campaign to unseat him, appears increasingly entrenched in power.
Mr Najib denied social media speculation that the Kedah palace had rejected Umno's choice for the Menteri Besar's post, thus making it necessary for him to submit a list of other candidates. Powerful Kedah warlord Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah had been widely accepted as the front runner until two days ago.
"No, not true. There was no rejection," Mr Najib said.
Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper, which is controlled by Umno, yesterday cited three senior Kedah Umno leaders, but excluded Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah, as the potential new chief minister.
Mr Najib, in his first public comments on the Kedah crisis, said he was aware of trouble brewing in the state, but intervened only after the divisional revolt last week.
"As party president, I had to give serious consideration to the decision of the division chiefs," he told reporters after chairing Umno's decision-making Supreme Council meeting.
The move to oust Mr Mukhriz through the palace is unconventional, as the usual means to remove a sitting chief minister is by a vote in the state legislature.
But the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition does not believe it has sufficient votes to bring a no-confidence motion against him in the 36-seat state assembly. Without Mr Mukhriz's seat, Umno has just 18 lawmakers - one short of the minimum 19 needed.
Mr Mukhriz was at the Supreme Council meeting in Kuala Lumpur, by virtue of his chief minister's post, but left the party headquarters less than an hour later. He told reporters that Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had ordered those not invited to leave, adding that the instruction was clearly aimed at him.
Dr Mahathir had last year joined a chorus of voices from across the political divide calling for Mr Najib to resign and be charged over graft charges relating tohundreds of millions found in his private banking accounts. Others also questioning the deposits in Mr Najib's account are Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin and Vice-President Shafie Apdal, both of whom were removed from the Cabinet last July.