Commentary Politics

Contest in Pribumi Bersatu crucial for Mukhriz but first he has to remain a party member

The Pribumi Bersatu election will be the first step towards redemption for Mukhriz but a defeat could see him waving goodbye to his political ambitions.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

May 20, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

NOT much about him was a topic of conversation those days, with Malaysians knowing him more as the son of (fourth) prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and to a lesser extent, as president of Ansara, the old boys’ association of the MRSM boarding schools. Some of my friends and I saw him more as a young man who enjoyed his evenings at a popular basement club on Jalan Ampang in the early 90s.

The next thing we knew Mukhriz Mahathir was in politics and it wasn’t long before he tried to work his way up the Umno Youth national hierarchy and being the prime minister’s son probably gave him a head-start of 50 points out of 100 against all other aspirants.

What took many by surprise was the decision by PM6 Najib Razak to make Mukhriz a deputy minister in April 2009 at the expense of Khairy Jamaluddin, the man who beat him in the contest for Umno Youth head the same year.

But those who knew the inside story were not surprised.

Khairy or more popularly known as KJ was one person even the mere mention of his name alone was enough to get Mahathir all worked up and that probably was one reason why Mahathir kept on sniping at Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his successor and the man who gave KJ his son-in-law a special place in his office as PM5. Giving a position in the federal administration to Mukhriz the loser instead of KJ the victor was Najib’s way of placating Mahathir, with the hope that he would not be an unwelcomed distraction to Najib’s time in office.

And making Mukhriz Kedah mentri besar in May 2013 was the “icing on the cake” in Najib’s scheme of things which put a wider smile on Mahathir’s face and a move that gave room for KJ to be finally appointed a minister in line with his position as Umno Youth leader. The Youth number two Razali Ibrahim after all was also made a deputy minister the same time as Mukhriz’s appointment in 2009.

Following his ouster in Kedah Mukhriz vowed not to surrender and this should not surprise anyone because at only 55 years old he must have a long way ahead in politics.

Contest to lead Pribumi Bersatu the first real test for Mukhriz

His first attempt at a comeback would be through his Pribumi Bersatu party, in which he is now the deputy president, but he will be challenging none other than prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin for the top post. The party election has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it is unknown as yet when it will be held. That contest will be most interesting because a result going Mukhriz’s way will be messy for Muhyiddin who now is holding on to a very slim majority in Parliament.

How Mukhriz does in that election will also be an indication of the influence his father still has, especially if a majority of those in the party’s senior leadership group are no longer as firmly behind him as they were used to. Some of course are in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet, a point not lost on Mahathir.

But so long as Mahathir is around and remains a feature in Malaysian politics, Mukhriz will always be known first and foremost as daddy’s boy. It’s easy to see why this is so and Mukhriz has no compelling reasons to dispute this.

Position of Kedah MB has had its downside

While the chance to head his home state twice may have been seen as a stepping stone to a more significant role or position at the federal level, both Mahathir and Mukhriz could have failed to fully realise the jinx that comes with a state that is known to be rather unsettled at the top, if not worse certainly equal with what we have seen of Selangor over the years.

Where MBs are concerned, Kedah tops the list with 13 CEOs since Merdeka in 1957. Perak, Selangor and Malacca have had 12 but in the last 25 years or so, Kedah tops the list with eight.

A few, including Sanusi Junid who was MB from June 1996 to December 1999 had issues, as was Osman Aroff before that. On this score only Selangor has fared worse.

If Mukhriz succeeds in toppling Muhyiddin within the party it would lead to all kinds of unthinkable repercussions and scenarios but first that will depend on whether Mukhriz is still a member by the time the situation brought about by the pandemic allows Pribumi Bersatu to finally hold its election but if Muhyiddin wins it will be a tough, long and steep hike up for Mukhriz, especially if the influence of his father wanes further. It may even push Mukhriz into political oblivion.

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About the author

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.