Mukhriz treading water in the deep
MUKHRIZ Mahathir is up against his first big political crisis as Kedah chief minister.
The move by the powerful Umno warlords in the northern Malaysian state to unseat him had him blindsided.
He is now fighting for his political survival.
Politics is full of irony and Mr Mukhriz, who just months ago, was asking Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down, is now facing the same sort of pressure from the Umno leaders in Kedah.
Mr Mukhriz has had quite a smooth ride since coming to power in 2013 but is now riding a rollercoaster that has left those around him confused and unsure of what to do.
On Friday, state exco member Norsabrina Mohd Noor was so stressed out from the crisis that she fainted and was rushed to hospital.
Mr Mukhriz had summoned his state exco members to Mentaloon, the official residence of the chief minister, where they were reportedly asked to state where they stand.
All but one of the state exco members turned up. The sole absentee was Tajuddin Abdullah and Mr Mukhriz's supporters have asked him to resign if he cannot agree with the chief minister.
They have been tight-lipped about what happened. Three other state exco members - Suraya Yaacob, Aminuddin Omar and Tajul Urus Mat Zain have been upfront about their support for Mr Mukhriz.
Ms Suraya, a lawyer and third-term assemblyman, caused a stir when she posted a critical comment on her Facebook which said that it should be Mr Najib and not Mr Mukhriz who should go.
She took it down a day later, explaining that it was an irrational act done in an emotional moment.
"I just want to make it clear that I will not abandon the Barisan ship even if a new chief minister comes in by the side door. This is not about the chief minister or my exco post.
"I was not getting along with Mr Mukhriz before this started but doing it like this is wrong, it makes people angry.
"I am prepared to be dropped (from the state exco) but I can hold up my head when I meet my constituents, my children's friends, their parents and their teachers," said Ms Suraya.
PARTY CALLS THE SHOTS
Kedah Wanita chief Maznah Hamid reportedly pledged 100 per cent support for Mr Mukhriz at a late night meeting on Wednesday.
Some said she had little choice because she is also the Wanita head of the Jerlun division headed by him.
Others said she has problems with Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, the deputy Kedah Umno chief who is spearheading the group against Mr Mukhriz. But Ms Maznah, whose daughter is married to one of Mr Najib's sons, joined the mutiny group at a briefing by Mr Najib in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
Mr Mukhriz is not without his share of support.
Apart from the above state exco members, there are also a couple more assemblymen who are with him.
But he has one big problem - the mainstay of his party is not with him. Power comes from the people but positions in government come from the party and that is the way the cookie crumbles. Umno's power base lies in its division chiefs and of the 15 division chiefs, 14 are not with Mr Mukhriz.
He is the Jerlun division chief but his deputy Othman Aziz is not with him.
His mantra the last few days is that the people put him up there and he will stay on for as long as he has the support of the people.
He is indeed very popular among ordinary Kedahans and especially among the Gen Y.
His argument for staying on is rather disingenuous.
His assemblyman position comes from the people but it was his party or rather his party president who picked him to be the chief minister.
His refusal to go has drawn parallels to former Terengganu chief minister Ahmad Said who triggered a constitutional crisis when he refused to make way for a new man. Mr Ahmad almost brought down the state government when he tried to get two assemblymen to quit Umno and go independent.
COST OF GOING AGAINST NAJIB
The irony over Mr Mukhriz's dilemma was not lost on Kedahans who still remember how Osman Aroff was forced out in favour of Sanusi Junid in the 1990s. The Kedah Umno leaders could not accept Mr Sanusi and 22 assemblymen petitioned Mahathir Mohamad. But the then premier was bent on having Mr Sanusi as chief minister and that was that.
The appointment of a chief minister is the prerogative of the party president with the consent of the Palace. There have been all sorts of rumours about where the Palace stands in the current crisis.
"Nobody can say for sure but do you think all these division leaders would have held that big press conference without first doing some homework about the Palace?" said Alor Setar Umno committee member Guntor Tobeng.
It is not easy to remove a sitting chief minister as the Pakatan Rakyat experience in Selangor involving Khalid Ibrahim has shown. Very few parties want to take the road of moving a vote of no confidence in the state assembly.
Mr Mukhriz can dig in his heels and make things difficult for his detractors. But he will be a weak and demoralised chief minister without the mandate from his party.
He brought a lot of hope and excitement when he came in. It is possible that he wanted to bring about a new way of politics and tried to bypass the powerful Umno warlords by going directly to the people.
This would have been possible if he was an established figure with a track record. But he is not. The old guards in Umno did not appreciate his method.
The Kedah political landscape is still hinged on the traditional kampung style of politics. It did not help that Mr Mukhriz was surrounded by inexperienced though well-meaning officers who are fond of using terms like "we are doing this for the future of the country".
He was too inexperienced to strike a balance in this complicated state with its entrenched warlord system. Some of his critics call him a "lotus" - nice on top, but nothing much to shout about below the water.
The division chiefs could not touch him initially because he had Mr Najib's support. When he took the side of his father, Dr Mahathir, to attack Mr Najib on the 1MDB issue, the presidential protection dissolved.
He is now treading water in the deep.
"It is a good lesson for everyone. Don't try to play the fool with the president," said Mr Guntor.
Mr Mukhriz is also the state Umno chief and an Umno source said the party is anxious for someone else to take over that post. He had been unable to function as the state Umno chief because of the fallout between him and the warlords.
The state party machinery needs to be activated to prepare for the general election and the top leadership is looking at Ahmad Bashah for the job. He is Kedah-born and bred and he knows how Umno works in Kedah, unlike Mr Mukhriz for whom the state is where his parents were born and grew up in.
But such an arrangement will create a dual political leadership in Kedah and lead to new problems.
It is quite sad that it has come to this and there has been an outpouring of sympathy for Mr Mukhriz, especially in his political base of Jerlun.
Some of his supporters have even threatened to "switch sides" if he is removed.
Mr Mukhriz is smart, well-educated and comes from a political family. Surely he knows that a chief minister cannot go against his Prime Minister and still hope to survive?
His own father has demonstrated that numerous times in his 22 years as prime minister.
He has no grounds to claim ignorance and the hour of reckoning has come.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK