New Kedah Chief Minister Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah was sworn in yesterday amid questions over his ability to govern the northern Malaysian state. Critics have attacked his lack of academic qualifications and an alleged habit of nodding off at public events.
Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah, 65, takes over from Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, who resigned on Wednesday following a two-week deadlock over the state leadership.
The Kedah Umno deputy chairman had led the revolt by the state's Umno division leaders against Mr Mukhriz, 51, with claims that he had failed to govern well and strengthen the party in the northern state.
Umno figures have defended the appointment of Mr Ahmad Bashah, citing other attributes such as his vast experience in politics and good connections to the federal government.
Those taunting the new Chief Minister included opposition stalwart Lim Kit Siang. He challenged the Menteri Besar to present his SPM - the O-level equivalent - certificate to end the debate over whether he had passed his school-leaving exams or merely held the middle-secondary SRP qualifications.
This came after widespread ridicule on social media that Umno had picked someone who did not graduate from high school. But Mr Lokman Adam from the Communications Ministry's public information arm, the Department of Special Affairs, said Mr Ahmad Bashah had obtained his SPM.
Mr Lim also called on Mr Ahmad Bashah to apologise for allegedly sleeping at an event where the Sultan of Kedah was delivering a speech. Mr Ahmad Bashah has denied dozing off during the event, but was again photographed with eyes closed during his own swearing-in ceremony yesterday.
When quizzed about his academic qualifications by Berita Harian, he told the Malay daily that "my university is Umno because it educated me and helped me mature". He explained that he did not pursue tertiary education because he lost his father when he was 22, and had to help care for his four younger siblings, all of whom have furthered their studies.
"I have experience, others have expertise. We complement each other. In Kedah, we have officers with calibre and, to me, they are part of my team," Mr Ahmad Bashah was quoted as saying.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also challenged the public to judge Mr Ahmad Bashah after 100 days in charge of the "rice bowl" state. "Ahmad Bashah has served as a state executive councillor and a deputy minister, so he has experience at both state and federal levels. Don't forget that he has been in politics for more than 35 years," Datuk Seri Zahid said from Beijing, where he was on an official visit.
Over the last week, media reports claimed that the Kedah palace, which intervened to end the impasse, had preferred Mr Ahmad Bashah's colleague, Datuk Ku Abd Rahman Ku Ismail, who holds a doctorate degree in rubber science, to be the next chief minister.
Mr Mukhriz, the son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, said on Wednesday that he made the decision to step down after he was told by the royal Kedah Regency Council - which held a series of meetings with the state's assemblymen from both the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and the opposition alliance earlier this week - that he had lost majority support in the state assembly.