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Zubaidah Abu Bakar
There is a new round of speculation that Terengganu may have a new Menteri Besar. However, some say removing Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said may not bode well for the two-seat majority BN state government.
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By Zubaidah Abu Bakar
UMNO’s spotlight is on Terengganu again where a new round of speculation is rife that the state may have a new Menteri Besar.
The locals, too, have had their share of rumour-mongering these days despite being frequently fed with stories about Putrajaya’s intention to remove Datuk Ahmad Said from office.
Looking back, there have been many false alarms since Ahmad, or Mat Said as he is known, was appointed to the post after the 2008 general election.
The rumour was strongest after the Ahmad-led Terengganu Barisan Nasional held on to power with a thin majority in the assembly, winning just 17 of the total 32 state seats in GE13 last year. Pas won 14 seats and one went to PKR.
However, Ahmad was not dropped and was sworn in as Menteri Besar for a second term. But this did not stop another round of rumours that he was to hold office for only a year.
It was widely believed that a one-year term agreement was made with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and if this is true, the deadline is almost up.
The political temperature in Terengganu has reached sizzling point with the locals being very curious whether Mat Said’s days are numbered after Umno’s mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia, in its Awang Selamat column, said there would be a change of Menteri Besar in some states.
No name or state was mentioned in the column, but the spotlight automatically moved to Terengganu.
“This topic is the talk in every coffee shop in the state for the past three weeks,” said a Kuala Terengganu restaurant owner.
The more political savvy are also anxiously waiting for signs and indications that could confirm or quash the current speculation about Ahmad’s position.
It is said that the “who’s who” list of guests at Ahmad’s second daughter’s wedding reception at Taman Tamadun Islam in Kuala Terengganu on Saturday could also be considered an indication of support for the Menteri Besar.
“The Sultan of Terengganu will be there. Let’s see who else will attend,” said a state government officer.
Another reception at Ahmad’s home in Telok Kalong, Kijal, Kemaman, next week is also expected to attract a lot of attention.
There are others, though, who dismissed outright the current talk as mere rumours.
They asked why the Prime Minister was bringing Ahmad along on his China trip at the end of the month if he indeed had plans to remove Ahmad from office.
Ahmad is expected to bring in more investments from China from the trip. A source from the state government said it was looking at RM3 billion in new investments in iron and steel manufacturing from China.
“Why rock the boat now?” is the answer from those who are aligned to Ahmad when asked by the media about the speculation.
A change in Menteri Besar would not bode well for the two-seat majority BN state government.
Najib, like it or not, still needs to tread carefully. Given the slim majority, a change in allegiance by just two assemblymen is enough to cause BN to lose power in the state.
Terengganu politicians do not discount this happening if Ahmad is forced to step down, a scenario sources in Umno headquarters said was taken into consideration by Najib when he decided to reappoint Ahmad as Menteri Besar for a second term.
Of course, there are others having opposing views. Some divisional leaders think Ahmad should bow out to save Terengganu from falling into the hands of the Opposition again.
The near-calamity GE13 outcome was a wake-up call to Umno that some drastic measures were required to stop the danger of BN losing the state again.
The Malay heartland has been under BN since independence, with the exception of two brief periods from 1959-1962 and 1999-2004, when PAS ruled the state.
In the 1999 general election, PAS came to power in Terengganu after winning 28 of the 32 seats in the state legislative assembly. Its success was largely attributed to the reformasi wave of 1998 following the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The party won only eight seats in 2008 — Rhu Rendang, Manir, Wakaf Mempelam, Batu Burok, Bukit Payong, Sura, Ladang and Bukit Tunggal — four seats more than in 2004.
Only Rhu Rendang, Manir, Wakaf Mempelam and Batu Burok went to PAS when BN wrested control of the state in 2004.
Seberang Takir assemblyman and state executive council member Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman is one of two names that had been bandied as Ahmad’s replacement.
Ahmad Razif, 49, a master’s degree holder, is said to get on well with the state Umno rank and file.
The other name mentioned is second-term Air Putih assemblyman Wan Hakim Wan Ahmad, whose father was former Mentri Besar Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Wan Ahmad.
Wan Hakim, 45, also has a master’s degree, but Umno sources said there might be some issues with the Terengganu palace.
Ahmad’s predecessor, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, could not be reappointed as Menteri Besar after GE12 because the Sultan of Terengganu did not approve the appointment, hence Ahmad was sworn in instead.
It was from that point on that Terengganu Umno split into factions, to a point where senior Umno leaders began calling it “a situation beyond help”.
Replacing Ahmad is unlikely to resolve the serious factionalism in the state Umno. Only a total revamp may improve things.
For those closely watching the developments in Terengganu, be rest assured that it would not be long before they know if Ahmad will stay on.
The Prime Minister is reshuffling his Cabinet soon and any change in the position of Menteri Besar is likely to be executed at or about the same time.
*Seasoned journalist Zubaidah Abu Bakar takes a keen interest in Malaysia’s vibrant, and sometimes, dramatic political landscape.
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