A fresh political storm is brewing in Terengganu, with rumours that nine Umno assemblymen are threatening to defect as a result of a longstanding feud with the state’s mentri besar.
If the nine join forces with opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) eight Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) assemblymen in Terengganu, the Barisan Nasional (BN) state government would fall. At present, BN has 24 of the 32 state seats, with Umno holding 23 of the BN seats and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) taking the remaining seat.
But a senior Umno assemblyman who is believed to be one of the unhappy nine denied the rumours. “It’s not true. It’s just a rumour,” he told The Straits Times. However, he admitted that 18 of the 23 Umno assemblymen were unhappy with the mentri besar’s leadership, and three were prepared to step down, declare themselves as independents or join the opposition.
“Most of us don’t support him. We don’t think he has done enough in terms of strengthening Umno in Terengganu.”
The state has long been shaky after the state ruler rejected Umno’s choice of mentri besar, the incumbent Idris Jusoh, and appointed Datuk Ahmad Said following the general election in March last year.
Several Umno leaders and supporters had held protests, leading to a brief constitutional crisis and an uncomfortable stand-off between the party and the palace. Then-prime minister Abdullah Badawi was forced to back down.
Since then, Idris’ supporters say that they have been sidelined by Ahmad and it seems they are unhappy because they were denied positions in the state Cabinet and were not handed state projects. In April this year, a group of 10 Umno assemblymen boycotted a sitting of the state assembly amid rumours that a motion of no confidence would be tabled against Ahmad.
Prime Minister Najib Razak had to intervene, and he ordered them to return to the proceedings.
A report by The Malaysian Insider news website this week said that nine assemblymen planned to join the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a member of the PR alliance, and together with PAS topple the BN state government.
There was also talk that they had met opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The senior Umno assemblyman said some of the disgruntled assemblymen had met Najib on Aug 23 for help. “He said he will try to resolve it. He needs to do so if he doesn’t want Terengganu to fall into the hands of the opposition.”
A PKR leader said he had received an SMS circulated within Umno that claimed the Umno representatives would jump ship. “Ahmad should find ways to get the two camps together. Instead he tried to show he is in power, by using a very hard approach against those who are not with him,” he said.
Those who went against Ahmad were punished for alleged bribery, he said, adding however that it remained unclear if the allegations were genuine or trumped up. One assemblyman was arrested on Aug 2 for allegedly accepting a RM20,000 bribe.
Last week, Ahmad had expressed confidence that the political crisis would end. “(Support) is getting better. When we tabled a motion, they seconded and also voted in our favour,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
Asked about the “silent treatment” he received from BN representatives during the debate sessions, he said: “What can we do? I don’t have a remote control that can make them talk like you do with a puppet.”
However, one Terengganu Umno division chief rubbished the idea that the Umno men would become turncoats.
“If it is true, then the state government would have fallen already,” he told The Straits Times. — The Straits