SYED Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman's recent revelation about his relationship with the Crown Prince of Johor was an eye-opener.
During a group interview in conjunction with the Pakatan Harapan's first anniversary, he was asked about his tense relationship with Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim or TMJ, as he is better known, which happened more than a year ago.
Anything to do with the Johor royals is hot news, and the Bersatu Youth chief’s story about how his ties with TMJ soured after he refused to do what the Crown Prince wanted was a widely-read story.
The Youth and Sports Minister was trying to illustrate that politicians do not always have to give in to demands from the royal house, especially if the demands were unreasonable.
There was a purpose and strategy to the timing to Syed Saddiq’s action, given what had happened at the Bersatu supreme council meeting on Monday night and which saw things come to a head between the loyalists of the party chairman and those of the president.
The supreme council meeting was convened to discuss why the Johor exco reshuffle went ahead despite a decision by the Cabinet against a reshuffle.
Those at the meeting were basically asking their president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to explain why he had defied the Cabinet.
“The meeting was to discuss the Johor exco and the palace’s bullying,” said a Bersatu insider.
Moreover, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is believed to have conveyed the decision to Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal during the latter’s courtesy call on the Prime Minister in Putrajaya.
Muhyiddin, who presented the list of new state exco names during an audience with the Sultan, was perceived as having caved in to the demands of the palace to reshuffle the exco.
Muhyiddin apparently explained to the supreme council that he was unaware of the Cabinet decision because he had not been at that particular meeting.
He also said he had not read the minutes of the Cabinet meeting.
“I can’t comment much, but we heard Muhyiddin’s reasons, and the supreme council seems to have accepted it. Anyway, we can’t do much since the exco has been changed,” said the insider.
It was a rather lame excuse, but there was nothing much that anyone could do about it and besides the horse, as they say, had bolted.
Muhyiddin denied that he had given in to the palace and stressed that it was necessary to move on as well as maintain ties with the palace.The Mahathir loyalists, on the other hand, took pains to defend his uncompromising stand on palace interference in the affairs of state and that was when some of them reportedly grew emotional.
“A small disagreement does not mean a rift, although Dr Mahathir does feel alone, especially if the MB did not follow his advice. Even if there was a rift, it can be mended,” said the insider.
The first hint of trouble in paradise came in when a text message purportedly from Ulya Husamudin, the information chief of Bersatu, was leaked and went viral.
In the text, he had accused Muhyiddin of changing the exco line-up without Dr Mahathir’s approval.
He urged supreme council members to attend the meeting to stand by Dr Mahathir, whom he claimed had threatened to step down.
He has not denied that the text message came from him, but claimed that it was twisted out of context by irresponsible people.
Ulya had also posted on Facebook a picture of Muhyiddin addressing the meeting while a solemn Dr Mahathir looked down as he listened on.
The photo was accompanied by a cryptic comment stating that it had been an emotional meeting for him and that his party’s priority was the future of the future generation.
He had added: “We are not going to bow to anyone but almighty God. May Allah bless and guide us in our journey.”
The Malay Rulers’ hold on the Malays is not what it used to be. The Internet has opened a Pandora’s Box that can never be shut again.
The average Johorean is still immensely loyal to their ruler.
But Dr Mahathir’s gutsy approach to the palace has a wide support base out there.
He is arguably the only politician in the country who dares take on the royals. You could say he has some experience in that field, and at 93, he does not have as much to lose as other younger politicians.
Still, taking on the Johor royalty must feel like walking into the open mouth of a lion.
The Sultan and his heir give as good as they get.
Muhyiddin, some say, can hardly be blamed for agreeing with the palace demand for a reshuffle.
It was political expediency or else he would be persona non grata with the palace.
The new Mentri Besar’s head would also be on the chopping block if he had chosen to listen to his chairman rather than his Sultan.
It is no secret that relations between Bersatu and the palace have grown quite rocky in the last couple of months.
The Johor Baru media noted that the cars bringing in the exco members for the swearing-in ceremony were directed to enter by the back gate instead of the main entrance.
PAS sources also said that the state PAS commission met TMJ during which they discussed, among other things, seats where PAS and Umno had the political numbers.
It is also learnt that the palace has met state Umno chief Datuk Hasni Mohammad to ask him to hold roadshows to explain the state constitution to the people.
Among the topics that the palace discussed with Hasni during the meeting was the implication of a snap state election.
This type of stories are not good for the ruling coalition, and Dr Mahathir’s latest shot-from-the-hip in his Chedet blog shows that he is not backing down.
He dug in his heels on the role of a constitutional monarch and even claimed that the people via the state assembly can reject a constitutional monarch through a vote of no confidence.
The Crown Prince is not letting up either. He posted a picture of a sand timer on Facebook, presumably to imply that time is running – but for who?
Yesterday, his Instagram account showed a fish character under the water grabbing some fishing lines with the caption: “You’re not gonna get any fish, especially this fish.”
It is a rocky road ahead for Bersatu with the Johor palace.
But it is the possible rift within his party that may give Dr Mahathir the bigger headache.