Mukhriz and the fading Mahathir magic

This is supposed to be a good year for Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, at least according to the Chinese zodiac.

Mr Mukhriz was born in the Year of the Dragon and, according to the Chinese horoscope, dragons are supposed to enjoy rather good fortune in the Monkey Year. But nothing seems to be going well for the Kedah Menteri Besar, and his political career is in tatters.

His successor has been decided on, and the big question is not whether he will resign, but when he will go. Mr Mukhriz, 51, is still adamant about staying because he says the people are with him. There is a great deal of sympathy for what he is going through, but many in his party think he is already a lame-duck menteri besar.

He has been unable to focus on the administration of state or make any important decisions since the state Umno division heads mounted a mutiny against him.

The prevailing opinion is that he should have gone with his head held high when only three state exco members turned up for the state exco meeting last Wednesday.

Mr Mukhriz being greeted by supporters at the Kedah Umno headquarters last month. The question now is not
whether he will quit, but when he will go. He is adamant about staying on, saying the people are with him.

The writing was on the wall and it would have been what one pro-Umno blogger called a "tactical withdrawal". Even the exco member who made such a song and dance about the signing of the controversial statutory declaration did not attend.

Politically speaking, Mr Mukhriz is quite alone in this crisis. Only Jitra assemblyman Aminuddin Omar, who is also a state exco member, is 100 per cent with him. The rest are clearly with the other side or have one leg in each camp.

Mr Mukhriz had an audience with the Regency Council in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, although an aide had informed the press that he was in his Bukit Tunku house. Those around him have been tight-lipped about the audience. But Kedah sources said the Kedah Palace are old-school royals who believe in going by the book, which means that any change and appointment will be done according to the state Constitution.

Politically speaking, Mr Mukhriz is quite alone in this crisis. Only Jitra assemblyman Aminuddin Omar, who is also a state exco member, is 100 per cent with him. The rest are clearly with the other side or have one leg in each camp.

Mr Mukhriz's recalcitrance has been compared to that of former Terengganu menteri besar Seri Ahmad Said, and it is not a good thing to be compared to that man. He has maintained a less-than-elegant silence to criticism that he is a "part-time MB" who spends more time in Kuala Lumpur, where his wife and children live, than in Alor Setar.

Mr Mukhriz has also not rebutted allegations that he is unable to work with the Kedah Umno leaders, and that communications had broken down between them for some time. For many Umno leaders, the party is the government and the government is the party. One cannot function properly without the other.

An aide said his boss spends time in Kuala Lumpur because he has meetings and appointments. As for his poor ties with the state Umno leaders, it is said that for Mr Mukhriz, politics is secondary to the people.

"He does not play politics with the division heads. He does not believe in all that 'I rub your back, you rub my back' kind of politics," said the aide. They argue that Mr Mukhriz is being removed because he criticised Prime Minister Najib Razak over 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Mr Mukhriz had made a defiant appearance last Friday at the Umno Supreme Council meeting , where any attendance was only by invitation because he is not an elected or appointed member. The secretariat had told him that he was not invited, so why did he persist in being there only to be told to leave?

It is possible that Mr Mukhriz thought he would be sacked from Umno that afternoon and he wanted to be there to defend himself. Many in Umno believe that he wants to be sacked rather than resign of his own accord.

Mr Mukhriz is probably trying to follow in his father's footsteps. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sacked from Umno for criticising Tunku Abdul Rahman. He went out as a hero and when Tunku resigned after the May 13 race riots, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein brought him back, and the rest is history.

But Dr Mahathir was lucky because he had a guardian angel in the form of Mr Abdul Razak to pave the way for him in Umno. Those were the days when politics was more altruistic. Mr Mukhriz is unlikely to pull off the same thing because there are more devils than angels in politics today.

The way he is moving now, it seems like he is being advised by a young set of people with a romantic notion of political rebellion. But Umno is a conservative party where challengers rarely survive.

And if Mr Mukhriz is not careful, his defiance may eventually come across as arrogance and a sense of entitlement often seen in the offspring of famous people.

He ought to know that politics is not always a cul-de-sac. It is more often a revolving door where you can be out one day and in the next.

Getting sacked from Umno would also make it more difficult for him to stage a comeback. None of his contemporaries will be willing to give him a hand up because they themselves want to move up.

The more upheaval he stirs up in Kedah, the more of an outsider he will become. A case in point is Terengganu's Ahmad, who has become some sort of an invisible man who few people want to have anything to do with.

The Mahathir magic is fading and it will be really uphill for him.

But if he makes way now, keeps his head low for a while and maintains his political network, Mr Mukhriz can pass through the revolving door when the opportunity arises in the future.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Mukhriz and the fading Mahathir magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe