A mix of old and new


The biggest change of Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers is likely to take place after the general election and a few may even occur before the polls.

DATUK Seri Mohamad Hasan often comes across as rather aloof and formal but he was as excited as a teenager when his state’s football team won the Malaysia Cup last week.

Football does strange things to grown men and the Negri Sembilan mentri besar (MB) flung off his reserve and planted a long, passionate kiss on the silver trophy.

Kissing babies would have been a better way to get votes but winning the Malaysia Cup twice in three years has given the state a big morale boost and Mohamad would be crazy not to ride on it.

Besides, he is struggling against the perception that this could be his last term as MB.

Mohamad was the high-flying CEO of a company that distributed Mercedes Benz cars before he went into politics. He is tall, macho and has a deep voice and can still make the Wanita Umno ladies go all aflutter. But he has not had a smooth ride since the state Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in 2008.

He does not play ball with the local warlords who grumble about the way he has brought his two brothers into the state’s politics, hence they have made life quite difficult for him. To compound matters, his predecessor and nemesis Tan Sri Isa Mohd Samad made a political comeback in the 2010 Bagan Pinang by-election and has been made Felda chairman. Given the importance of the Felda vote to the Prime Minister, this makes Isa a rather influential man.

On top of this is the string of potential successors, namely Works Minister Datuk Shaziman Mansor, Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin and Kota assemblyman Dr Awaluddin Said, waiting in the wings.

Mohamad, or Mat as he is known among the Umno crowd, is fighting for his political survival. He has a corporate style which the Umno warlords dislike. But many non-Malays relate to him because he comes across as less Umno than the traditional Umno types.

He recently scored points when he took the side of a Chinese school against a developer on a land issue.

Next month, the biggest multi-purpose hall in the state will be completed in a Chinese new village in Rahang. He decided to push ahead with the project even though the villagers gave the seat to the DAP.

The Prime Minister has not given the faintest hint about what lies ahead but that has not stopped Umno circles from speculating about changes in states currently held by the Barisan. They claimed a few have overstayed or under-performed while one or two are so lacklustre that they may be jeopardising the Barisan’s prospects.

Undefeated state

The only state guaranteed to escape a change is Malacca where Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam is the king of the hill, thanks to his delivery record. The DAP chaps in Malacca have been asking him to “faster gostan”, that is, to step down as soon as possible, but it looks like he is in forward rather than reverse gear.

Malacca remains the only state where Umno has not been defeated in any of its seats since Independence and that is awesome.

A great deal of what happens in the other states will depend on how well the MBs and CMs deliver in the general election.

Najib, said a political insider, is not going to change captains just for the sake of change. If the man works well with him, is able to deliver and is accepted by the party grassroots, Najib would prefer to go with the flow. The extent of change will also depend on Najib’s own mandate.

But one state in urgent need of a change of MB is Terengganu. Datuk Ahmad Said is still struggling to earn the respect and support of the party elites three years down the road.

He is fortunate the locals do not have very demanding expectations of their leader and he has been able to get away with doing the minimal. But Terengganu folk can be whimsical about their vote and the state may swing if the wind blows hard enough.

Perlis is also problematic because of the stand-off between the current and former MBs. Datuk Seri Md Isa Sabu has been overwhelmed in this little state known for its “three tigers on a small hill”. The fiercest of the “tigers” or Umno warlords is none other than former MB Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim who is still making things difficult for Isa.

Perlis is not in dire straits but things cannot carry on in this way indefinitely.

The top job in Pahang has also been a subject of some speculation. Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has been MB since 1999 and some feel he has overstayed but people in Pahang are not unhappy with his leadership.

His detractors like to paint him as a samseng but the rural folk relate to his unpretentious and grassroots ways or what some call his cikgu style.

Still, Adnan deserves credit for being bold enough to speak out against money politics at the height of the Umno elections in 2009. And despite his macho image, he is not afraid to admit that he enjoys doing his own laundry in the evenings because he finds it relaxing.

He has a good relationship with the Prime Minister and few see Najib rocking the boat in his home state – as yet.

Kelantan and Penang are widely expected to stay with Pakatan Rakyat and unlikely to see changes in the state leadership although Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat may retire mid-term.

On the other hand, Perak and Kedah could go either way in the general election.

Given Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak’s poor health, there is likely to be a new Kedah MB even if Pakatan holds on to Kedah.

Fixed deposit

In Sabah, earlier speculation about Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman has subsided. Musa got the job because he was a Pak Lah man and his detractors had started a big whisper campaign after Najib came in, firing salvos about his policies and his family’s business tentacles.

However, Najib did not play into their hands and left Musa to do his job.

Musa, said Kota Belud MP Datuk Rahman Dahlan, has been a loyal supporter of Najib.

“He has delivered politically and economically, he has not done or said anything to show he is not with Najib,” said Rahman, who used to be Musa’s political secretary.

Sabah is seen as Barisan’s sole “fixed deposit state” now that Sarawak’s Tan Sri Taib Mahmud has lost the magic in his state. The Barisan took 24 out of 25 parliamentary seats in Sabah in 2008 and Musa can ensure his own survival by delivering another coup.

As for the platinum-haired Taib, he will go when he is ready and not a moment sooner even though this is his 30th year as Chief Minister.

Selangor is another 50:50 state and there is likely to be a new man whichever side wins.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali is preparing to make a move if Pakatan survives but Barisan is still looking for a fresh new face. Datuk F.D. Iskandar, a chubby corporate figure, had emerged earlier on as a possible MB candidate but the old guard had balked at the idea.

The Selangor situation is going to be much more complex because it enjoys such great prestige and resources. Or, as Kapar Umno deputy chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah put it, the Selangor MB’s post is seen as the third most powerful after the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Some think Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has missed a golden opportunity to show what Pakatan can do if it gains federal power.

The state leadership is quite mediocre and it is being dragged down by the deteriorating delivery of its local government.

There have been endless letters to the media complaining about unswept roads, poor garbage collection, unrepaired street lighting and back lanes that resemble abandoned schemes. For instance, Subang Jaya used to be an exemplary township, but maintenance and services have plummeted in the last couple of years and complaints have gone unheeded.

“The hot topic among us is about getting back the state. No one really talks about who will be MB. They know it is going to be the PM’s call,” said Faizal.

Royal ties

Depending on who you speak to, Johor’s Datuk Ghani Othman will be replaced or go on to be the longest serving MB in the state.

Johor has become the most happening state in the country, thanks to the Iskandar development initiative, but Ghani has been dogged by talk that he will be replaced by Higher Education Minister Datuk Khaled Nordin. A few other names have cropped up but Khaled is definitely on the list although he has not sparkled at the federal level the way his one-time mentor Datuk Shahrir Samad did.

Ghani survived because the late Sultan had grown rather fond of him but a new round of speculation started after Sultan Ibrahim ascended to the throne. The Sultan is seen as a man on the go, a vibrant sovereign who wants to engage the people. He is a pilot, rides a superbike and has even driven a train.

Ghani has had to endure talk that the Sultan was not comfortable with him and favoured Khaled who was a schoolmate.

But the reality is that the Sultan and Ghani have a good working relationship.

The Sultan takes a keen interest in the state’s development and Ghani has dutifully accompanied the Tuanku on his rounds. On his part, the Sultan is said to have taken well enough to Ghani to present him personal gifts.

If Ghani does go, it will not be because of issues of performance or the palace.

The fact is that he has been MB since 1995, he will turn 65 next week and it may be time for Johor to be led by a younger, more dynamic and exciting face, someone who can connect with the ground yet command the respect of the investment sector and Johor’s southern neighbour.

In the meantime, Najib can be assured that Johor is in steady hands. With Ghani in charge, the Prime Minister can have a good night’s sleep.

Some think that Najib may reshuffle one or two of the problem states before he calls for election. But those close to him said he is a subtle man and he understands Umno politics too well.

They say the changes will likely take place after he gets his own mandate and hints of what is to come will lie in the way he positions the old and new faces in the state seats.

In the meantime, the MBs and CMs can still catch a good night’s sleep.-TheStarOnline