Five years from now, Johor will not even be an Umno stronghold if those in control of the party are “beraja di mata, bersultan dihati” even among their fellow Umno people.
Do mark my word on this.
It took merely almost three and a half years before that actually happened following the departure of Jorak assemblyman Datuk Dr Shahruddin Md Salleh from UMNO to join Mahathir’s Pribumi. For the first time in 61 years, the Barisan Nasional/Alliance holds its two-thirds majority in its Peninsular safe deposit, Johor, by a single thread.
Losing two-thirds majority in UMNO’s bastion used to be unthinkable right until the 13th General Elections when the Chinese Tsunami swept many state and parliamentary seats. It lost 12 seats in the last general elections compared to GE12 in 1998, and this time around the biggest gainer was the DAP with nine extra seats. Barisan Nasional ended up initially with 38 out of the 56 seats. With the departure of Jorak, it now holds the two-third majority with the bare minimum number of seats.
Despite the progress and development that are taking place in Johor, Ghani was trounced not because he did not do his job, but because of blatant racial sentiment. As with the previous three general elections, Ghani would not be seen sitting comfortably in his office at least two years prior to the elections. He would be on the ground making sure that the machinery is ready to face the next battle, and there would be elections simulations held at various levels of the state’s BN. Ghani would also make sure that his relationship with the Johor Civil Service (JCS) remain at the highest level.
Life of Annie also pointed out that when Ghani pointed out to Khaled that his Pasir Gudang division was in danger of falling into the Opposition’s hands, Khaled did not take that rather well and rubbished the findings. The simulation was almost correct – Barisan Nasional held on to Pasir Gudang with less than 1,000 votes ahead.
With Ghani ousted, Khaled wanted to make his own mark as the Menteri Besar. The job as the Menteri Besar of Johor is not exactly an easy one. With a Sultan who can be somewhat overbearing and often puts his hands into the affairs of the state administration, the Menteri Besar would have to know how to manage both the Sultan and the state administration without upsetting either one. Ghani was an old hand at this and knew exactly how to handle the Sultan, having had to also manage the unconventional behaviour of the Almarhum Sultan Iskandar previously. He had a good relationship with both Sultans, knowing when exactly to pull the strings and when to let it slack. Khaled is said to let the Sultan have things his way so much so that even the promotion of JCS officers is left for the Sultan to decide. While Ghani was often seen patting the back of JCS officers for the good job that they do, Khaled lets the Sultan do the Menteri Besar’s job for him. While the Sultan might like it, this doesn’t augur well for the state Barisan Nasional. Any administration would want to have some form of control over its civil service and a good rapport to go with.
The number of gatekeepers one needs to go through to get to Khaled is another common complaint by the common people. Journalists covering Khaled also complain that at almost every event, Khaled is being surrounded by his posse of young lieutenants, even to the extent of having the nearest table to the VIP table occupied solely by this group of people. This makes Khaled look like the overgrown hipster. It only makes the Menteri Besar less approachable even to the Ketua Bahagians. It is said that he was advised by UMNO veterans to go down and meet the grassroot leaders. His response was, “Aku tak kenal orang Johor (I don’t know the Johor leaders).”
It is already less than two years to the next general elections. Unlike Ghani before him, Khaled is still mostly seen in Johor Bahru. Ghani and his executive councillors would have been scouring the state to see what else that have been missed. Speaking to a Puteri UMNO division head recently she expressed her worry that none of the division heads have actually begun to activate their election machineries in a concerted manner. This particular Puteri UMNO head has had to conduct her own voters and membership registration drive; an effort which is puny compared to the ones that have and are being done by the DAP in Johor alone. If you were to ask the UMNO division chiefs in Johor, they would tell you that all is rosy, and that is until you speak to them on a one-on-one basis. However, Khaled has told reporters that the Johor Barisan Nasional still holds a comfortable majority despite it being razor thin after the departure of Jorak. To the UMNO grassroots, Khaled’s confidence is extremely worrying.
It is no secret that the DAP will be working with Pribumi to wrestle control of Johor from the Barisan Nasional come GE14. It is hardly an impossible task too! Muhyiddin might be a figure to be reckoned with both in Pagoh and Muar, but outside those two areas, he is still remembered as the person who sold Johor Malays’ rights to the Chinese. Mahathir knows this very well as he was the one who rescued Muhyiddin when the latter became a persona non grata in Johor in the early 1990s. Mahathir knows that Muhyiddin carries a lot of baggage with him and would not be the correct person to lead the country if the Opposition wins. There is already an attempt to kill Muhyiddin politically. You hardly hear of any statement being made by Muhyiddin while Mukhriz is seen going around in Johor conducting membership registration drives. No clues needed for the question on who is Mahathir’s choice for PM.
DAP on the other hand, wants to conquer the western Johor belt, where there is a significant number of Chinese population as compared to the eastern belt. During a dinner at the Landmark Hotel with Batu Pahat DAP members, DAP’s MP for Kluang Liew Chin Tong and ADUN for Senai Wong Shu Qi related the plan to wrestle Parit Sulong, Pulai and Pasir Gudang. With Batu Pahat already in PKR’s hands, all that is needed is for Muar to fall, and it is most likely that Muhyiddin would contest there, if not the often-clueless Syed Saddiq, a Muarian himself.
Even Azmin Ali does not want to be left out by the Mahathir and Pribumi bandwagon. He was seen recently in Muar together with Mahathir at a Pribumi event. It is no secret that he is heading the drive for PKR to work together with Mahathir – a sentiment not shared by the pro-Wan Azizah camp that includes Wan Azizah loyalists Rafizi Ramli and Wong Chen. There is even talk that Azmin might work towards dissolving PKR and jump en masse into Pribumi. While that is not totally impossible, the departure of Ezam from UMNO to Pribumi has certainly strengthen that theory.
The Johor conundrum is something that the Barisan Nasional (read UMNO) cannot take lightly if it were to gain more seats in the next general elections. If Khaled is not moving, then someone should take the lead and face the Opposition head on. There are two FELDA regions that need to be handled with care. Khaled should realise that there is more to Johor than just Johor Bahru. He has to go down on the ground and get the feel himself instead of relying on reports from the UMNO divisions and the various sugar-coated reports from agencies. If you do not know the terrain and its people, you will lose the war. Don’t be like Hamid Karzai who was dubbed the ‘Mayor of Kabul‘ despite being the President of Afghanistan!
And in the words of Life of Annie opus citatum:
If this is how Khaled’s people want to behave, then I dare say that he will be just a one term MB and Johor will fall five years from now.