Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir is not going to have an easy time in Kedah from now on after what happened at the Alor Setar division AGM, which has revived speculation that his job is on the line.
By Joceline Tan
The Star/Asia News Network
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin is a crowd magnet.
But when you put Khairy and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir on the same stage, you get an even bigger crowd.
That was what happened in Alor Setar recently when Mukhriz joined the Youth and Sports Minister to launch the Kedah phase of Fit Malaysia.
There was a massive crowd of young people and some of them said they wanted to get a glimpse of the two leaders together. The pair are not exactly allies and they tend to attract attention when seen together.
When a schoolgirl taking part in the cycling event fainted, some thought she was over-excited at meeting the famous pair. But the girl was worn out because she had woken up at 5am that morning to cycle all the way from her kampung in Pendang to Alor Setar.
Actually, the Kedah Mentri Besar is not young. He is 51 but his youthful looks and demeanour appeals to the youth.
But the same cannot be said about his appeal among the Umno rank and file, a number of whom see him as a helicopter politician in Kedah.
However, they have held their tongue because of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. The warlords could see the Umno president showing support for Mukhriz even as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was hitting Najib left, right and centre.
But are things about to change?
Some think so especially after what happened at the Alor Setar Umno division AGM on Sunday.
Mukhriz, who has been quite vocal in his criticism of Najib, found himself at the receiving end during the Alor Setar AGM. It was not direct or hard-hitting like what Mukhriz's father has been doing but a nuanced reprimand.
Alor Setar Umno chief Senator Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah goes back a long way with Najib and it was obvious that he wanted to use the occasion to send a message to Mukhriz in the presence of Najib whom he had invited to officiate at the AGM.
Ahmad Bashah's speech, which lasted one hour and 20 minutes, centred around the theme of loyalty to the leadership and love for the party.
"Ahmad Bashah started the story, our president picked it up from there and concluded the story," said Datuk Guntor Tobeng who sits in the Alor Setar Umno committee.
Ahmad Bashah, who is also a deputy minister and deputy Kedah Umno chief, recalled that when Dr Mahathir insisted on replacing Tan Sri Osman Aroff with Tan Sri Sanusi Junid as mentri besar, there was an uproar among the Kedah assemblymen.
He also spoke of how Kedah leaders wanted to support Datuk Suhaimi Kamaruddin for the Umno Youth leadership in 1982 but Dr Mahathir ordered them to vote for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
On both occasions, Kedah leaders bowed to what Dr Mahathir wanted.
He said that when Kedah fell in 2008, the burden of running the party in an opposition state fell on him as the deputy Kedah chief.
He had to approach Najib many times for help and funds and Najib, he stressed, "never once said no".
It was an understated speech but the message was crystal clear - supporting the president's decisions is nothing new; in fact, it is part of Umno's political culture. Mukhriz's own father had demanded no less in his time as premier.
The speech also seemed to suggest that Mukhriz had not shed blood, sweat and tears like the rest of Kedah Umno leaders but had parachuted into the coveted seat.
Ahmad Bashah, some thought, was also saying that Mukhriz is ungrateful for turning against Najib who put him there.
Najib's speech was more direct and he had turned to address Mukhriz, saying that Ahmad Bashah did not rebel when he was sacrificed for Mukhriz to move up.
It must have been quite uncomfortable for Mukhriz who had to sit up there among all the Umno division warlords who have never really warmed up to him. Mukhriz and Najib had arrived for the AGM in the same car but everyone noticed that their body language on stage was terribly formal.
Mukhriz has made no bones about where he stands on the 1MDB issue and he had invited Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal to officiate at his Jerlun division AGM a day earlier.
The Umno crowd understands that Mukhriz has his own views about issues and is loyal to his father. They say that filial responsibility is a given, but there is no need to go to division meetings and rub salt in Najib's wounds.
"Personally, I feel there is nothing wrong about having different views from the leadership but when you start questioning the president, it is like a green light for others to also criticise you, especially now that they know Najib will not stop them," said Guntor.
Mukhriz has to respect the fact that Najib picked him as mentri besar and he cannot go around making statements that are seen as disparaging the president.
The Alor Setar affair has revived the rumour that Mukhriz will be replaced as mentri besar. Even the Kedah civil service is talking openly about it.
That is unlikely to happen because Najib does not need a Kedah crisis on his plate right now. Mukhriz will keep his post but he is not going to have it easy from now on.
On Monday, he launched a new multi-storey carpark in the heart of Alor Setar. Within hours, SMSes were flying about how he had promised Kedah an international airport but delivered a carpark.
The pressure has started for Mukhriz.
* The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.