KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's rocky relationship with Johor's royal family has been laid bare once again after he reminded the southern state's Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, that the latter's post was "not permanent".
Responding to a recent jibe from Tunku Ismail, Tun Dr Mahathir said on Sunday only Malaysians can remove him as prime minister, The Star reported.
"We need to remember the past when a crown prince had to abdicate and the position was given to his younger brother. That's the crown prince, a crown prince can be changed. Only the people can change the prime minister, not just anybody or someone who thinks he is big," said Dr Mahathir, who was in China to attend the Belt and Road forum, at a press conference.
Dr Mahathir was likely referring to the late Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail of Johor, the Crown Prince's grandfather, who in 1961 lost his status over alleged misbehaviour, and was replaced by his younger brother. Sultan Iskandar was later reinstated as the crown prince by his father in 1981.
"He thinks he is someone big, but he is just a small fry. If he thinks he's big, go and vote and bring me down," Dr Mahathir added.
Dr Mahathir's comments appeared to have prompted a response from the Crown Prince's brother, Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim, who yesterday hinted at a possible run at the country's next elections.
In an Instagram story, the prince posted a black and white picture of himself in formal dress, with the caption "I'm running #PRU15", using the hashtag for the next elections. At the time of writing, the post - which has a 24-hour shelf life - was no longer available.
JUST A SMALL FRY
A crown prince can be changed. Only the people can change the prime minister, not just anybody or someone who thinks he is big... He thinks he is someone big, but he is just a small fry. If he thinks he's big, go and vote and bring me down.
MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, on Johor's Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.
Sin Chew Daily reported that in another Instagram story, the prince carried out a survey where 75 per cent of the respondents wanted him to contest in Muar while 25 per cent chose Mersing.
The current Muar Member of Parliament is Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a member of Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. Mr Syed Saddiq previously said his relationship with Tunku Ismail had soured after the Crown Prince made demands before and after the 14th General Election that left him uncomfortable.
Dr Mahathir's comments on Sunday, meanwhile, appeared to be directed at remarks made by Tunku Ismail in a recent video.
In the video, Tunku Ismail was seen leaving Stadium Larkin in Johor after a football match in which Johor Darul Ta'zim went down 0-1 to Shandong Luneng in the AFC Champions League last Wednesday.
The vehicle ferrying him stopped when a fan shouted "Change Mora", in reference to the football club's coach Benjamin Mora.
Tunku Ismail, who was seen in the front passenger seat, then put his head out of the window and retorted: "Instead of changing Mora, it's better to change the Prime Minister."
The rocky relationship between Dr Mahathir and the Johor royal family became testy again this month after Putrajaya retracted its decision to accede to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and amid a tussle over who has the authority to make appointments to the state government.
The government's decision to withdraw from ratifying the Rome Statute of the ICC followed claims led by the Crown Prince that acceding to the convention was unconstitutional.
The clash of the two giants, which followed Malaysia's first change of government a year ago, has been inevitable, given the Prime Minister's low tolerance for royal interference, and the insistence by the Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, and his son Tunku Ismail that their family remains sovereign over Johor.