The Asian Voice

Calm before another storm in Johor?: The Star columnist

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar driving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Johor on Jan 10, 2019. The relationship between Tun Dr Mahathir and the Johor royal family became testy after Kuala Lumpur retracted its decision to accede to the International
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar driving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Johor on Jan 10, 2019. The relationship between Tun Dr Mahathir and the Johor royal family became testy after Kuala Lumpur retracted its decision to accede to the International Criminal Court and on appointments to the state government.PHOTO: MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

In her commentary, the writer highlights the role of Malaysia's home minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in mediating between Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - What a roller-coaster of a week it has been for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

For a while, it seemed like his career was once again on the line as he came under fire from his party over the controversial reshuffle of the Johor exco.

The Bersatu president and his powerful party chairman were clearly not on the same page over it and Muhyiddin was criticised for going against the no-reshuffle decision made by no less than the Cabinet.

But something intangible has happened along the way and Muhyiddin may have finally found his mojo in the midst of a crisis.

The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two other words - danger and opportunity - and it looks like Muhyiddin may have survived the danger and turned it into an opportunity.

He is now seen as the bridge across the troubled waters between the Johor Palace and Putrajaya.

Some political watchers even credited Muhyiddin as being statesmanlike in handling this complicated issue between two powerful and strong-willed individuals - the Johor Sultan on one hand and the Prime Minister on the other.

The Home Minister could have been trampled like grass under two stampeding elephants but he obviously did what he thought had to be done.

Muhyiddin is now well positioned to mediate between the palace and Putrajaya, especially now that Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar seems prepared to meet the Federal Government halfway.

 
 
 
 

He is also seen as an experienced and steady pair of hands to guide the novice Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal through the most difficult job in Johor politics.

Muhyiddin has been playing second fiddle in his party all this time because it is hard for anyone to shine alongside Dr Mahathir.

But he seems to have finally emerged from under the shadow of his chairman.

The firm stand that he took in reminding the Sultan to not interfere in the affairs of state and to give the Mentri Besar space to do his work went down well with those who understand the role of a constitutional monarchy.

Very few people have defied Dr Mahathir and survived and Muhyiddin took a huge risk to back the Mentri Besar over the reshuffle.

There have also been several other casualties among those who spoke out. For instance, Bersatu Youth information chief Ulya Husamudin fell victim to fake news at the height of the reshuffle issue.

A fake WhatsApp text critical of Muhyiddin was wrongly attributed to Ulya and he came under attack by some party members.

Ulya has since cleared the air. He insisted that although he has been outspoken, he is committed to both his party chairman and president.

However, Muhyiddin's top aide Datuk Dr Marzuki Mohamad is still trying to impress everyone that his boss was unaware of the Cabinet decision against the reshuffle and that the changes were solely the effort of the Mentri Besar.

It needs an immense stretch of the imagination to believe Marzuki's story. It is such an amateurish and old politics way of shaping public opinion in the Internet age.

Who on earth would believe that the Mentri Besar would dare to make such a major move on his own in his first week in office?

It would have been better to bite the bullet if you think you have done the right thing.

A case in point is Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who recently revealed how he stood his ground against what he saw as an unreasonable demand from the Crown Prince.

The opinion out there is that the palace acceded to Dr Mahathir in replacing the Mentri Besar.

As such, Dr Mahathir ought to reciprocate by agreeing to the palace's wish to reshuffle the state exco.

Public opinion is also critical of the way the Crown Prince snipes at Dr Mahathir over social media.

Many feel it is not proper for a younger man, no matter how elevated his position, to be disrespectful of a 93-year-old man.

Even Umno, which considers Dr Mahathir their Enemy No. 1, steers clear of directly criticising the elder man.

However, Tunku Ismail Tunku Ibrahim seems to be trying to smooth out the ripples after weeks of belligerence and has initiated dialogue with the younger generation of Pakatan leaders in his state.

Johor is a crucial state for Bersatu, which needs to take good care of it if it wants to replace Umno.

Almost every prime minister, said lawyer Khaw Veon Szu, had run-ins with the royal houses, especially when it comes to appointing the Mentri Besar.

 
 

"The other PMs approached it differently, unlike Dr Mahathir who is more confrontational. He is not afraid of anyone," said Khaw.

Terengganu businessman Datuk Wan Albakri Mohd Noor said Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had a stand-off with the Terengganu palace that lasted weeks when the Sultan refused to reappoint Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh as Mentri Besar.

He also recalled how the late Datuk Rahim Bakar was moved to a parliamentary seat because he fell out with the Pahang palace for refusing to entertain the palace on land issues.

But Rahim, the son of a fisherman, earned the respect of his party and received the top supreme council votes in the Umno election that year.

Political commentator Tawfik Ismail said that Malay perception of Dr Mahathir's administration will be shaped by how he handles the Rulers.

He said Dr Mahathir is struggling with the Malay vote, and the Malays are closely watching how he handles issues concerning the community.

"Umno had rapport with the Rulers and provided the support base for Mahathir when he was Umno president. But Mahathir 2.0 has been unable to go around to consolidate and press home his point of view," he said.

Tawfik said the Sultan, in contrast, goes down to the ground every week, while the Crown Prince connects with and maintains his base via social media.

He said the political truce is good for the Johor government to return to normalcy.

"You cannot underestimate the PM's powers of incumbency. Johor needs the Federal Government in order for things to move," he said.

Dr Mahathir was away in Beijing amid much of the turbulence.

He is back and the question is whether this never-say-die man is also ready to meet the palace halfway.

The writer is a regular commentator with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.