Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said has been in office for just a year but he is now struggling to hold on to his job. Much will depend on how new Terengganu Umno chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein assesses the situation.
AROUND this time last year, the burly and loquacious Datuk Ahmad Said was riding high in Terengganu.
He had just been made the Mentri Besar and was basking in the goodwill of the palace even if the then Prime Minister was not so cosy with him.
Now, a year later, his good fortune seems to have worn out and he is unsure of what the future holds for him.
On Friday night, he lost the important post of state Umno chief, which many see as a prelude to a change in the MB’s office. Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak appointed Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as the new state Umno liaison chairman.
It means Hishammuddin will now be the Umno boss in the state while Ahmad will concentrate on his duties as MB. It was quite a blow to Ahmad because he was the only MB who was not made the Umno chief in a Barisan-held state.
It was the latest episode in a series of events that seem to suggest he is in misstep with the palace, which as everyone knows, is a key factor in Terengganu politics.
In fact, locals have been talking about a secret memorandum signed by 16 assemblymen that was then sent to the palace and the Umno president.
There is definitely a revolt in the ranks and following the embarrassing incident where 10 assemblymen stayed away from the Legislative Assembly sitting, Ahmad has been so busy trying to mobilise support that he has hardly been to his office.
Both sides have been trading all kinds of accusations. Ahmad’s supporters have labelled the rebellious assemblymen as sepuluh jahanam (10 miscreants), accusing them of destabilising the government and going against the Sultan because Ahmad, after all, was the palace’s choice.
But, said an assemblyman from the anti-Ahmad side: “Do you really think there would be this open opposition to him if we thought the palace was still supporting him?”
The anti-Ahmad side also denied they had been planning to table a no-confidence motion against the MB at the recent assembly sitting.
“If we did that, we would have been hauled up by the supreme council and sacked,” said one assemblyman.
Ahmad, according to local reporters, is actually very easy to deal with, down to earth and friendly.
But the people surrounding him is another story. They are said to be the “Little Napoleans” who make bad decisions on his behalf and spoil his image.
Stories are beginning to trickle out about the way he conducts state executive meetings, his inability to process feedback and his enthusiasm for the zoo in Kemaman where he is Umno division chief.
His critics are aghast that he appointed an ex-ambulance driver as a GLC chairman and how his idea of helping the rakyat was to distribute 10 oil palm saplings to each household.
“Under Idris, we would hear all sorts of projects and things happening in the state. Now we only hear the MB talk about the zoo in Kemaman,” said a Kuala Terengganu resident.
Ahmad’s biggest drawback after a year in office is that he has been unable to fill his predecessor Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh’s shoes.
“Hishammuddin must identify talent that can lead the state in the general election, give them responsibility and test their performance,” said Datuk Wan Albakri Mohamed, a local businessman and Umno member.
Local politicians are already talking about potential candidates after Ahmad.
The forerunner is Datuk Mohd Awang Tera, a second-term state exco member and former Kuantan Port CEO. He was part of the technocratic team that Idris put together after the 2004 elections.
The Cukai assemblyman speaks good English, carries himself professionally and has tried not to get too entangled in the ongoing spat. His main advantage is that he is seen as someone who can get the support of both sides.
Others in the running are Datuk Rosol Wahid (Ajil), Alias Abdullah (Alur Limbat) and Wan Hakim Wan Mokhtar (Air Putih), who also happens to be the son of former MB Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Wan Ahmad.
A lot will depend on the report card submitted by Hishammuddin when he assumes his duties as state Umno chief.
Ahmad is safe for now but he will feel like he is walking on eggshells.
ANALYSIS By JOCELINE TAN (The Star)