Four Malaysian states may see changes at the top

Sources say Najib may seek Umno mandate to replace state chiefs to avoid polls setbacks

KUALA LUMPUR • Changes at the top might be afoot for four Malaysian states: Pahang, Terengganu, Kedah and Negeri Sembilan.

Sources say Prime Minister Najib Razak could take the issue to the Umno general assembly later this year to get a mandate for such changes.

Speculation about changes in Umno's state machinery grew after Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob indicated recently that he might not stand for re-election. He has held his Pelangai state seat since 1986.

"I have been in politics a long time. It might be timely to retire," the 66-year-old chief minister was quoted as saying. But shortly after, he urged the media not to blow his decision to call it a day out of proportion.

Two candidates have been touted as likely replacements.

Lanchang assemblyman and state executive committee member Sharkar Shamsuddin, 53, is experienced, well-liked and a Najib loyalist. But Datuk Seri Adnan apparently prefers Raub division chief Shahiruddin Moin, who is in his 60s.

The palace will probably have the last say on who assumes the post.

For Terengganu, change is a foregone conclusion, given the troubled administration of Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman, whose predecessor Ahmad Said has been trying to undermine him. The state is in danger of falling to the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, and Mr Najib must bite the bullet if he wants to hold on to Terengganu.

In Kedah, its chief's health is a concern. Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Hanipah had surgery and was hospitalised for almost a month for "intestinal complications". He has been reticent about the nature of his illness, which has led to all kinds of speculation. A recent routine check-up sparked rumours that he had been hospitalised again.

He is still recuperating, and the worry is that he might not recover in time for the gruelling election campaign next year.

Negeri Sembilan chief Mohamad Hasan, 60, also had a health scare recently - he was taken ill while attending the Rembau Umno division annual general meeting. The cause turned out to be an overdose of medication for his gastric problem.

He became state chief in 2004, but Barisan Nasional (BN) failed to secure a two-thirds majority in Negeri Sembilan in 2008 and 2013. The perception is that he does not have the support of local Umno warlords.

Umno divisional leaders control the local campaign machinery in an election. If that machinery does not run smoothly, Negeri Sembilan will have problems again.

"The Prime Minister needs new captains to spearhead the machinery in these states," said a source.

The impending changes are seen as being necessary to prevent a further slide in BN's hold on power. Datuk Seri Najib needs all the numbers he can muster to garner a better result in the general election.

The plan to usher in new chief ministers is bold and ambitious, but Mr Najib has no choice, said the source, because the next general election is a do-or-die one for him and his coalition.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Four Malaysian states may see changes at the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe