On the heels of Mukhriz Mahathir’s resignation, the Malaysian northern state of Kedah welcomed its new chief minister, Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, as he was sworn in at the state palace on Thursday (Feb 4).
However, public sentiments are rising against the departure of Mr Mukhriz, the son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is critical of the country’s current Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The ex-Kedah chief minister’s resignation followed weeks of calls from UMNO officials in the northern state for him to step down.
"I was informed that I have lost the majority support by the Kedah Council of Regency yesterday," he said in a press conference at his office, claiming the move to replace him had been instigated by Mr Najib.
The 51-year-old former deputy trade minister has been critical of Mr Najib's government over the issues of state investment fund 1MDB, and has publicly called for the recently-implemented Goods and Services tax to be lowered to help the people cope with rising costs of living.
In Kedah, many residents, particularly the younger generations, are fond of their ex-chief minister, or menteri besar, who held the post for two and a half years.
“He is close to the people of Kedah, friendly and humble,” said 23-year-old Shazwani. Her friend, Syafwana, described him as “a breath of fresh air,” saying he understands what young people want.
"He lifted the status of Kedah’s football until it reaches (the Malaysia Cup) final; it has never happened before," said Shabor, 22.
For Kedah’s UMNO grassroots leaders, however, Mr Mukhriz failed to unite and mobilise the party. They said they cannot work with him.
"What happened is for the good of Kedah, especially for UMNO members,” said Tajul Urus, Executive Councillor of the Kedah state government. “They have to come together to unite. We have to respect our leader; to criticise publicly is not good. Do you like it, a leader being criticised all the time?"
Mr Mukhriz was appointed as Kedah’s chief minister after the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition recaptured the state in the 2013 election. Two and a half years later, many UMNO leaders are worried that BN would lose in the next election.
Mr Mukhriz’s successor, Ahmad Bashah, a five-term assemblyman, will have the work cut out to win over his detractors and regain the people trust.
“What is important is we must make sure we retain power in the state. I’m sure Mukhriz will help because, as a party man, he must have the same spirit," he said.