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COMMENT:

AT last, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir was forced to resign as Kedah Menteri Besar after losing support in the state legislative assembly.

Kedah now gets a new Menteri Besar.

Technically, the political crisis that put Kedah in the political limelight the past two weeks, is over.

From this moment, Kedah Umno will have to see that the political turmoil that led to the change of Menteri Besar will die down quick and the people of Kedah get on with their usual life as before.

The new man at the helm is no political novice nor a stranger to the people of Kedah, being present in the political circle for a long time.

Datuk Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, 66, the man who led the delegation of 14 Umno division chiefs, state and federal elected representative in a political revolt against Mukhriz took his oath as the 12th Kedah’s Menteri Besar at Kedah’s Istana Anak Bukit, after a fortnight of twists and turns.

There is huge responsibility ahead for the Bakar Bata (previously known as Alor Merah) assemblyman.

No doubt about this.

It is not that Kedah had not experienced a change of Menteri Besar before, there were those who left before the end of their terms, while others were not re-appointed after the general election.

Only that this time the people had openly spoken against the change during the period of political fiasco, lending support to the popular view that Kedah is likely to face a challenging feat in retaining Barisan Nasional control in the next general election.

The change of Menteri Besar before the end of his term is not unusual in this Malay heartland state; Mukhriz is the third. The first happened to fifth Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Syed Nahar Shahabuddin followed by Tan Sri Osman Aroff who took over from Syed Nahar.

There were ripples and the people watched rival Umno factions crossing swords before each leadership change; but the baton was eventually passed without much resentment from Kedah folks.

Unlike Mukhriz who lost support from fellow Umno lawmakers — the group went public calling for his resignation, the late Syed Nahar resigned amidst the “Montoya Del Monte” video scandal while Osman, accused by detractors of giving face to Chinese businessmen, had also resigned quietly although Kedah’s lawmakers then opposed the change.

Osman was replaced by Tan Sri Sanusi Junid in 1996. Sanusi was not reappointed after the 1999 general election.

Datuk Seri Syed Razak Barakhbah who assumed office from 1999 to 2005 quit due to poor health and was replaced by Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.

Mahdzir helmed Kedah until BN lost its control of Kedah to the opposition in the 2008 general election due to serious factional bickering in Kedah Umno.

The ousting of Mukhriz does come with a price; the Kedah Menteri Besar wrangle has led to further erosion of public trust in Umno in the state.

The grassroots are obviously not happy, evident from gatherings held in several places prior to his resignation to express that they are upset with Umno for trying to topple him from his post and this needs to be addressed.

Also needing Ahmad Bashah’s immediate attention are the Kedah floating voters, a large number of them were believed to had returned to support BN in the last general election after PAS’ failure to administer the state well due to internal leadership tussle during the Islamist party’s short stint after the 2008 general election.

The Malays, who make up 75% of Kedah’s population, had turned their backs on Umno in 2008. It came as a big shock for Kedah Umno when Pas took the state, having won 22 of 36 state seats, turning Kedah into the party’s power base.

Now that voters have returned to Umno’s fold, Kedah Umno leaders have to pray hard and, also ensure that the political turmoil will not develop into something more complex and detrimental to Umno.

Since the strength of Kedah Umno lies in the division chiefs, they should unite and rally behind the new Menteri Besar besides ensuring full control of their divisions, the latter being the main factor for Umno’s defeats in electoral contests, not the strength of PAS.

The leaders first have to be magnanimous to everybody because if they become election candidates, they cannot win without the support of the opposition within the party.

Will Ahmad Bashah be able to pacify the Umno ground and fence-sitters before the 14th general election?

The reality in Kedah is that voters —many are neither Umno or PAS members, will reject the party embroiled in leadership and internal problems.

BN could even lose Kedah in the next general election as the ruling coalition now only commands a majority of six seats in the state assembly.

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