KUALA LUMPUR - Umno's deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin on Thursday (Jan 21) warned the party it faced a bigger rift if it granted a demand by Kedah party leaders to remove the state's chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir.
In a statement, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said demands for the removal of Datuk Seri Mukhriz should not be made out of the "personal political interests of certain parties" and that the party risked losing the respect of the people if the bid was allowed by the party leadership.
"If the demand to have Mukhriz removed from office as the menteri besar (chief minister) and state Umno liaison was made out of the personal political interests of certain parties, and not the interests of the state, this is truly a very sad day for the people of Kedah and Umno, a party that is already facing a severe crisis of confidence with the people," Muhyiddin said.
"I fear that if pressure to get Mukhriz to step down is entertained by the party leadership, more people will lose their respect for Umno and the party will face increasingly tough challenges in days to come," the former deputy prime minister was quoted saying by the Malaysian Insider news website.
"These actions by several Kedah Umno leaders urging for the removal of Datuk Seri Mukhriz are very disappointing," he said.
Muhyiddin in the statement also credited Mukhriz's calibre as a respected Umno politician for helping the party's Barisan Nasional ruling coalition win the state of Kedah back from the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia in the 2013 general election.
He added that Mukhriz was well-liked as a leader and one who was not tainted by corruption scandals.
"Mukhriz is an Umno leader with calibre and is liked by party members and the people. One of the factors leading to BN's victory in Kedah is Mukhriz's character as an Umno leader to the point that the prime minister himself promised Mukhriz the Kedah (chief minister) post if BN won the state," he was quoted saying, according to the Malay Mail Online website.
Mukhriz, who is the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, suffered a blow on Wednesday (Jan 20) after the Kedah Umno leaders declared a loss of confidence in his leadership and demanded that Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Umno president, remove him.
In a statement, they accused him of poor leadership, citing his failure to unite the party, the lack of strategic planning for the next general election - which must be held by August 2018 - and his failure to manage the state effectively.
The bid to remove Mukhriz came as his father, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, on Wednesday (Jan 20) said he had not given up on his campaign to remove Datuk Seri Najib from office.
Muhyiddin was ousted from his role as Deputy Prime Minister last July in a cabinet reshuffle by Najib that led to a rift within Umno. His ouster came after Muhyiddin made critical comments about Najib over his handling of the debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) among other issues.