JOHOR BARU - Cracks have appeared in the Johor chapter of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), just days after its central leadership led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad did not pick Johor's new menteri besar as state party chief, Malaysian media reported on Sunday (May 5).
At least 21 out of the 26 PPBM division chiefs met at the party's Johor headquarters on Sunday to defy the order by pledging support for the state's new Menteri Besar Sahruddin Jamal as the state PPBM leader.
PM Mahathir and PPBM's central leadership last week chose Mr Mazlan Bujang, the PPBM Tebrau chief, to lead the party in Johor instead of Dr Sahruddin.
Under usual party rules in Malaysia, the menteri besar (or chief minister) of a state is automatically picked as state party leader. The idea is to facilitate his work in the state and align it with the wishes of his party and coalition.
Sources told The Star newspaper that these 21 leaders hope to get signatures and submit a memorandum to PPBM chairman Tun Mahathir, to ask him to reconsider his decision, and appoint Dr Sahruddin as state leader.
"We need unity in the party. We also do not want problems with the Johor palace," a party official told The Star.
A source close to Mr Mazlan said he heard about the meeting. "The meeting was to reject Mazlan's appointment as Johor Bersatu chief," he told Malaysiakini news site.
Dr Sahruddin was present at the Sunday meeting.
But Mr Mazlan and the chiefs of four other PPBM divisions in Johor who support Mr Mazlan, were not invited.
The outcome of the meeting is a serious challenge to the central leadership of PPBM, one of the four parties under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance that governs Malaysia.
It comes at a time when Dr Mahathir is facing off with the Sultan of Johor and his son over the governing of the southern state.
Dr Sahruddin was picked as Johor's menteri besar last month to replace Datuk Osman Sapian following a falling out between PM Mahathir and Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor.
Dr Mahathir felt that Mr Osman, who was not one year into his job, was too ready to give in to the Johor ruler's wishes.
But Dr Sahruddin, as soon as he was made menteri besar, announced he would reshuffle his state Cabinet as advised by Sultan Ibrahim. But there was no such order from Dr Mahathir.
This led to tensions between Dr Mahathir and Dr Sahruddin.
The prime minister, who is also chairman of PPBM, last week picked Mr Mazlan as Johor PPBM's chief.
PM Mahathir must now decide whether to accede to the wishes of 21 of the 26 PPBM divisions in Johor, or to reject their proposal and risk heightening tensions with his party chiefs in the southern state.