Umno has made "several suggestions" to the Kedah palace as it bids to oust Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir as chief minister, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Friday (Jan 29), although he refused to confirm that a leadership change was certain.
Datuk Seri Najib, who is the ruling party's president, told a press conference after a leadership meeting that he had an audience with the chairman of the northern state's Regency Council - made up of the state sultan's two brothers and only daughter - this morning.
"I informed him of several suggestions on behalf of Umno," he said but refused to give further details.
Mr Najib also denied that the palace had rejected Umno's choices for Menteri Besar, with powerful warlord Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah widely accepted as the frontrunner.
"No, not true. There was no rejection," he said.
In his first public comments on the Kedah leadership crisis, Mr Najib said he was aware of trouble brewing in the state, but only intervened after 14 out of 15 divisions decided to withdraw support for Mr Mukhriz.
"So as party president, I had to give serious consideration to the decision of the division chiefs," he said.
Mr Najib's meeting with the Kedah royalty comes more than a week after Kedah Umno leaders turned their backs on the son of Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the influential former premier who has led a faction pushing for Mr Najib's ouster.
However, without Mr Mukhriz, Umno has just 18 seats out of 36 in the state assembly with allies Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) holding two seats.
A handful of Umno assemblymen are understood to still be loyal to the current Menteri Besar, although local media have reported that 17 Umno and two MCA lawmakers have agreed to remove him.
Mr Mukhriz had been present for the Supreme Council meeting, which by convention includes all state chiefs but left the party headquarters less than an hour later.
He told reporters that secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had ordered those not invited to leave, adding that the instruction was clearly aimed at him.
But Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan refuted claims that Mr Mukhriz was personally barred from the meeting, saying that "he is only invited to attend Supreme Council meetings, if we decide there is no need to come, then there is no need to come".
Dr Mahathir, Malaysia's longest-serving leader, had last year joined a chorus of voices from across the political divide calling for Mr Najib to resign and be charged over graft charges relating to US$700 million (S$995 million) found in his private banking accounts. Others also questioning the Prime Minister's role in the deposits are Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin and vice-president Shafie Apdal, both of whom were removed from Cabinet last July.
But the public prosecutor said on Tuesday there was no criminal wrongdoing on the Prime Minister's part in receiving a US$681-million "political donation" purportedly from the Saudi Royal family, nor up to RM75 million (S$26 million) from a government-owned company.
Mr Mukhriz's impending removal is widely believed to be engineered by Mr Najib's camp, and having weathered a year-long campaign to unseat him, the premier appears increasingly entrenched in power.