KUALA LUMPUR: Sandwiched between Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Johor palace, the position of Johor chief minister is an “unenviable" one, an analyst told CNA on Thursday (Apr 11).
Ties between Dr Mahathir and the Johor royals are known to be chilly during the former's first premiership. Since returning to lead the country last May, Dr Mahathir has been trading barbs with the Johor royal family, with the latest issue being the impending appointment of a new chief minister in the state of Johor.
Dr Azmil Mohd Tayeb, a political scientist at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the new chief minister is likely to play the role of a peacemaker between the two behemoths.
However, it would not be easy as “both sides are known to be hard headed”, he said.
The previous chief minister, Mr Osman Sapian, tendered his resignation on Monday after less than a year in office.
Dr Mahathir's party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) or Bersatu, insists that the new chief minister must be chosen from among its assemblymen in Johor, in accordance with an existing arrangement before the general election in 2018.
Party president Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters on Thursday there is an agreement between parties in the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition that the Johor chief minister must come from Bersatu.
“This was decided from before the last general election. For Johor, it’s Bersatu,” he said, as reported by The Star.
Mr Muhyiddin added that Bersatu already has “maybe two” or “maybe even three” names as possible candidates to replace Mr Osman.
In Malaysia, it is usual practice for the ruling party to present a list of names to the palace for the sultan’s consent.
Dr Mahathir, who is also Bersatu chairman, maintained on Thursday that the right to choose a chief minister lies with the government, which is formed by winners of a democratic election.
“I believe Johor is part of this country. Unless it is a foreign country, I don’t interfere in internal affairs of foreign countries,” he said.
His response came after Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Iskandar issued a statement on Wednesday ordering “certain parties” to stop meddling in Johor’s affairs because the “sovereign state still has a sultan”.
Associate Professor Muhammad Takiyuddin Ismail, political science lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said palace blessings make the appointment complicated.
“PPBM may want candidate A, but the palace may prefer candidate B. Both sides have to compromise on the matter,” he said.
While the spat between Dr Mahathir and the Johor royal family will surely pose challenges to the new chief minister, Dr Takiyuddin is confident that the palace will give its consent if a competent candidate is presented.
“I do not think the palace will want to see another constitutional crisis. If they prolong the deadlock, Mahathir will surely make a next move. And you should never underestimate Mahathir’s element of surprise,” he said.
APPOINTMENT OF CHIEF MINISTER CANNOT BE BULLDOZED: MP
The president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a party in the opposition coalition, cautioned that the appointment of a new chief minister cannot be bulldozed or unilaterally done.
“It requires political wisdom and effective communication skills to deal with the palace. Any confrontational situation will further delay the appointment and obviously affect the smooth running of the Johor state government,” Dr Wee Ka Siong told CNA.
Dr Wee said the Johor constitution clearly states that the candidate must receive consent from the state ruler, although Pakatan Harapan (PH), as the ruling coalition, has the right to propose candidates.
The MP for Ayer Hitam - a constituency in Johor - added that the new chief minister must be a competent and capable person with integrity.
“He must be able to lead the state, unite people of all races in Johor, and work with the palace and the civil servants in the state,” he said.
Most importantly, the chief minister must continue with the agenda to develop Johor, Dr Wee added. Iskandar Malaysia and the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development in Pengerang were singled out as key projects in the state.
“The new chief minister should intensify efforts to attract more foreign direct investment into the state,” he said.
DEALINGS WITH SINGAPORE IMPORTANT: ANALYSTS
Dr Takiyuddin said that the new chief minister needs to be competent and relatively young for a progressive and dynamic state like Johor.
Other than his ability in balancing the interests of the palace and his party, the candidate should also possess a good understanding of diplomacy and international affairs, he added.
“The dynamics of bilateral relations with Singapore, for example, will directly affect the chief minister,” he said.
Dr Azmil agreed that dealing with Singapore is important.
“The former chief minister did badly on this matter and it is something that the new chief minister must improve on, especially when so many Johoreans are working in Singapore,” he said.