TERENGGANU - Terengganu was thrown into political turmoil following the resignation of its former menteri besar Ahmad Said and two other Umno lawmakers within 24 hours, leaving the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) with only a tenuous hold on the oil-rich state.
As Umno leaders worked to contain the crisis, it sparked a flurry of conflicting media reports.
An aide to Prime Minister Najib Razak last night denied a report in The Star Online that all BN Terengganu assemblymen had been summoned to Putrajaya for talks last night with Datuk Seri Najib, who is Umno president and BN chairman.
Separately, Deputy Prime Minister and Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin was reported to be in Terengganu last night to broker a deal with Datuk Seri Ahmad.
"Insya-Allah (God willing) we will find the best way to resolve this crisis," Tan Sri Muhyiddin tweeted yesterday as he urged the people to remain calm.
The crisis erupted on Monday when a new menteri besar was sworn in to replace Datuk Seri Ahmad, who resigned hours later.
Yesterday morning, two Umno men, Mr Ghazali Taib and Mr Roslee Daud, also quit to become independent assemblymen.
But reports late last night quoted Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim as saying that one of the assemblymen, whom he did not name, had returned to Umno.
Until the about-turn, the developments presented the opposition with an opportunity to retake the state it once ruled, with the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) saying earlier that it was ready to welcome the former Umno assemblymen.
"If they come to us, we give them a warm welcome but (it is) not for us to persuade them to join us," former state PAS chief Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut told The Straits Times yesterday.
Earlier, the three resignations had left BN with only 14 seats, one seat less than the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
With one assemblyman returning to the BN fold, the balance in the 32-seat state assembly is BN and PR each with 15 seats and two independents.
Analysts said the resignations will allow the PR to move for a motion of no-confidence against the BN state government.
Mr Ahmad holds all the cards, especially if he can persuade more Umno assemblymen to join him.
"Ahmad Said will negotiate for maximum gains," said Dr James Chin, a political analyst at Monash University Malaysia.
"Najib Razak can't afford to lose Terengganu," he added.
While Mr Ahmad has had a rocky relationship with Umno leaders, things came to a head after he delivered lacklustre results in last year's May 5 elections, handing BN only a razor-thin majority in the state. The party leadership had demanded that he step down, but he refused and instead asked for another year.
Referring to Monday's swearing-in of new Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif, Mr Ahmad told The Star: "I have worked in Umno for a long time. I told the PM that my daughter's wedding reception is on May 17 and asked for the change of MB to happen after that." But Mr Najib went ahead with the swearing-in.
Mr Ibrahim Suffian, head of the Merdeka Centre think-tank, said breaking the impasse with face-saving measures for Mr Ahmad and Umno will not be easy.
Mr Ahmad's resignation has thrown a spanner in Mr Najib's plans to turn around the state with a new menteri besar to win back public support ahead of the next general election.
"Ahmad was a compromise candidate who was put up after the last candidate was rejected by the Sultan as MB," said Mr Ibrahim.
This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.
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