Exco line-up snub upsets Dr M after open spat with Johor palace

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad with Johor Menteri Besar Dr Sahruddin Jamal at the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: As the 10 Johor exco members took their oath of office before Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar at Istana Bukit Serene, Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in Putrajaya for a convention on Orang Asli, where he told reporters that he believed the new line-up was based on what was agreed by PPBM.

“I suppose so,” he said.

But details later emerged from sources close to the party, indicating not only that the line-up was not approved by the PPBM central leadership, but there was also no instruction to shake up the state Cabinet.

The topic was intensely discussed during a high-level meeting chaired by Mahathir on the same day the 10 excos were sworn in.

At the heart of the tense meeting was the move by Johor Menteri Besar Dr Sahruddin Jamal to ignore a directive not to reshuffle the state exco.

A source said Sahruddin was not the only leader who upset Mahathir, especially as the prime minister is involved in a sensitive spat with the palace over who calls the shots in matters of state governance in Johor, a state that has long grappled with jurisdictional issues involving the palace.

The spat came on the heels of the Johor palace’s vocal opposition to Putrajaya’s move to ratify the Rome Statute, over claims that the treaty could harm the royal institution.

Mahathir was forced to withdraw from the treaty. Several public remarks followed, jogging Malaysians’ memory of the 1993 constitutional crisis that ended with the Malay rulers losing their immunity from criminal charges.

The prime minister later lamented how the amendment was not fully utilised to strengthen democracy and justice, pointing out that the special court had hardly been used since.

That, and the latest snub from one or two of his trusted men in the PPBM leadership over the Johor episode, must have upset the 94-year-old leader.

But Universiti Malaya analyst Awang Azman Pawi said maintaining relations between Putrajaya and the Johor palace is critical, and that those involved in getting the state government back in operation following Osman Sapian’s resignation as menteri besar must have read Johor better.

“Without the sultan’s consent and agreement on the state line-up,  relations between the state government and the palace will be affected, and then the running of the state will not be smooth,” he said.

It is understood that the reshuffle of the state line-up was at the request of the sultan.

Awang Azman warned of PPBM splitting into two camps, one of which not subscribing to Mahathir’s way of dealing with Johor, where successive menteris besar have had to ensure a more than cordial relationship with the state palace in the interest of political survival.

Analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said there is a perception that the new state line-up was the work of the Johor palace and that the palace would continue to wield influence in administrative matters.

He warned that it was up to Sahruddin to ensure that he toes the party line while avoiding stepping on the wrong toes.

He, too, suggested that developments in Johor could split PPBM.

“The appointment of the excos may not be a big enough issue to trigger an all-out clash but if the new menteri besar allows a bigger issue to surface after this, I think he is looking for trouble.”

With party polls looming, Kamarul said there is a chance that Sahruddin may be taught a lesson if he does not toe the party line in administering Johor.

“What comes out from this episode is that Tun Mahathir emerges stronger. There is little doubt that people will rally behind him in the event of a full-scale confrontation with the palace.”