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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mukhriz Mahathir as MB Kedah: A winning strategy? – Azman Ujang

BANKING on a name to regain a state – this was the headline of a half-page story in Singapore's Straits Times last Wednesday. The accompanying large picture showed Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir shaking hands with padi farmers in his Jerlun parliamentary constituency in Kedah.


The paper reported that Mukhriz's arrival at a youth gathering in Alor Setar two Saturdays ago was met with thunderous applause, something he doesn't normally get at public functions.


This new-found popularity of the son of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad apparently has a lot to with another newspaper front-page story earlier this month that portrayed him as the mentri besar of Kedah should Barisan Nasional regain the state from Pakatan Rakyat in the next general election.


It has triggered much excitement and met with mixed reactions in Kedah ahead of polls widely expected within the next few months.


Although the Umno leadership hasn't officially adopted the strategy of announcing first-term MP Mukhriz as the man tipped for the MB slot, he is already seen as BN's best bet for winning back Kedah which unexpectedly fell to PR in 2008.


The key for BN this time around is "winnable candidates" and Mukhriz, 48, despite his "juniority" has strong credentials. Mahathir's name still carries much influence and reverence in his home state, which is Mukhriz's biggest asset.


"It's not for me to deny that it (the Mahathir name) has its own advantages especially among the old people. But the young people want to know me for my own ideas," Mukhriz has said.


But the big challenge for the deputy international trade and industry minister, especially between now and polling day is to win over Umno warlords in Kedah jealous of his meteoric rise.


One such person is the Umno state liaison chief Datuk Paduka Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, who is Mukhriz's boss in the state party hierarchy. Mukhriz is his deputy.


Asked by media to comment on this latest political development surrounding Mukhriz, Ahmad Bashah said Umno's and BN's focus is on winning back the state and the question of who will be MB if the battle is won is not a priority.


Detractors of the idea feel that apart from having a household name, Mukhriz hasn't proven himself, and the Kedah warlords regard him as a parachute politician.


After several general elections as a journalist, my own take is that portraying Mukhriz as an MB aspirant is a wise move and will make a difference. Opinion polls have shown that the next general election may be decided by the so-called "Generation Y" or young voters below 40. Four out of every 10 newly registered voters fall in this category.


Kedah voters rejected old faces in the 2008 election when BN led by Umno lost the state, with PR winning 20 of the 36 state seats.


Journalists in Kedah whom I spoke to said the state's youth wanted someone energetic like Mukhriz, while analysts believe he is the best choice because he is popular among people under 50.


Winnable candidates are also those deemed to be without skeletons in their closet.


The final decision is with the top leadership, but it is obvious BN's chances of winning Kedah back will improve if it has the right candidate for MB, analysts said.


The wisdom of naming the candidate for MB prior to a general election is best illustrated by the 2004 polls, when after losing Kelantan to PAS in three consecutive elections, BN named Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (currently international trade and industry minister), for the post.


What followed was a huge swing to BN which however failed to wrest the state by only two seats. The result for one seat, Kemuning, created Malaysian election history when PAS won it by just two votes!


PAS later clung to power until the 2008 election with just a one-seat majority after BN won a seat in a by-election.


Contrary to claims, it is a measure of how clean elections in a country are that a party in the opposition at the federal level like PAS can continue to cling to power by the slimmest of majorities.


Mustapa was widely accepted by the people of Kelantan, but after the party lost by a whisker, he did not make it as MB. PAS went on to win the 2008 election by a bigger margin.


It remains to be seen if BN will again put up Mustapa, Mukhriz's boss in the ministry, as the candidate for MB.


By and large, voters don't like uncertainties in their choice of MB when they go to the polls, as was seen in Penang in 2008 when BN led by Gerakan named no one to succeed Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon if it retained power. Gerakan lost all state seats in that election.


For Selangor, which BN also lost four years ago and is going all out to recapture, talk is that the party is eyeing a corporate personality to head the state government if it succeeds in what is seen as an even tougher battle ground than Kedah.


By the same token, it makes a lot of sense for whoever it has in mind to be made known earlier, rather than later.


Source : http://www.thesundaily.my/news/404614

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