PETALING JAYA: The influence of the palace among Johoreans is something Pakatan Harapan has to deal with as it gears itself for the next polls.
It’s no secret that the royal household is not fond of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is the opposition alliance’s chairman. This is readily admitted by PPBM, the Pakatan party of which Mahathir is also chairman and the one seen as being at the forefront of a campaign to break Umno’s six-decade stranglehold on Johor.
The party recently decided to engage the Johor sultan through a series of dialogues.
Pro-Umno sentiments remain strong in the state where the ruling party was born, according to PPBM supreme council member Tariq Ismail.
Tariq comes from a well-connected family in Johor. He is the grandson of the late Ismail Abdul Rahman, who served as deputy prime minister from 1970 until his death in 1973 and who had a profound influence on the national politics of his time.
The bitterness between Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim and Mahathir had its roots in the early 1990s, when the former prime minister engineered a campaign to remove the Malay rulers’ immunity under the law. This followed a controversy involving a hockey coach and the then Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim’s father.
Sultan Ibrahim is one of two Malay rulers who have openly criticised Mahathir, the other being the Sultan of Selangor.
The Johor ruler is unhappy with, among other things, Mahathir’s opposition to the Forest City project near Johor Bahru.
Tariq admitted that the opposition had a lot of work to do to gain the palace’s trust.
“Sultan Ibrahim may be apprehensive over working with Mahathir, but this is where we need to build bridges,” he said. “We need to give assurances to all the royal households that the power of the sultans will not diminish, that their opinions on any law being passed will be respected.”
Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, another Johor-born politician, does not see the palace’s dislike of Mahathir as an issue.
Salahuddin, who leads Pakatan Harapan’s election machinery in Johor, said the opposition’s focus should be on issues directly affecting people in the state, such as housing, education and the outflow of workers to Singapore.
“Whatever tension exists between Mahathir and the sultan, let it stay between them,” he said. “But I am confident that the concept of monarchy as stated in the constitution will be protected, and so will the democratic right of citizens to vote for whom they prefer.”
Tariq also spoke of issues of direct concern to the public. He said the opposition was being kept busy with such issues as the cost of living, Felda’s problems, and the question of Khaled Nordin’s fitness as menteri besar.
“We have enough issues to raise with the rakyat,” he added.