Johor Pejuang in leadership crisis following pressure to purge state chief, say sources

·5-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JOHOR BARU, Aug 8 — With the general election looming, Johor Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) is put in a leadership tussle after its incumbent state chief Datuk Shahruddin Md Salleh is said to be resigning from the post, claim several sources.

It is understood that several members within Johor Pejuang had made attempts to purge the seasoned 66-year-old politician from his post due to alleged incompetence in managing the party’s state chapter.

A source from Pejuang’s central leadership said that several unhappy Johor members, calling themselves “Penggerak Akar Umbi Pejuang Johor”, had met with party chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad twice in Putrajaya in June and recently last week.

“The 10-point petition and memorandum detailed the problems the Johor chapter faced with Shahruddin at the helm, including his failure in the Johor state elections last March where Pejuang fared badly.

“They made it clear that Shahruddin must be made responsible and submitted a petition as well as a memorandum calling for the Sri Gading MP to vacate his post,” said the source to Malay Mail on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to issue any statements to the media.

Sentiments against Shahruddin and his officers had grown earlier this year following his failure to deliver for Johor Pejuang during the state election and also running up to the coming 15th general election (GE15).

It is learnt that about 11 out of the 26 parliamentary area chiefs in Johor have signed the petition calling for Shahruddin to be replaced. This situation has somehow put the state in a leadership tussle for several weeks.

However, the same source confirmed that Shahruddin is still the incumbent state chief and there is no official decision yet on his resignation.

He said that Shahruddin has also expressed his wish to step down and had earlier submitted his resignation from his post to Dr Mahathir.

“Johor Pejuang are still awaiting a decision on the matter,” said the source, adding that Dr Mahathir had also advised all affected members that party unity is paramount in such circumstances.

The source explained that back in April and June, some sections of Johor Pejuang members had been unhappy with Shahruddin‘s leadership.

“Shahruddin‘s plan for the party to contest in 42 state seats that was earlier agreed to by the party’s leadership. Eventually that decision saw the party losing badly and was the most disastrous outing for Pejuang.

“Checks showed that Shahruddin had failed to discuss and communicate his election strategy to party president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, only promising that Pejuang could wrestle at least 40 out of the 42 state seats.

“This in itself had many members questioning the failed plan as Pejuang was still a ‘new’ political party barely a year old but had harboured big dreams.

“Other matters included the fielding of unknown individuals to contest, with some members suggesting that there were elements of sabotage involved,” said the source.

The source added that even after the state election, Shahruddin had failed to identify the issues that caused Pejuang to perform badly with no conclusive post-mortem communicated to state members.

He said the faction members have become frustrated as GE15 is near and Shahruddin as state leader had no proper strategy.

Another party source said that Shahruddin and his officers were seen as problematic for Johor Pejuang.

“The faction said that Shahruddin was apparently very dependent on his officers who are said to be incapable of making decisions for the state chapter.

“So, the faction has requested the party’s top leadership to decide with a show of hands to determine if Shahruddin and several others should vacate their posts,” said the Johor Pejuang source to Malay Mail.

However, the source said there have been talk that Shahruddin will still be maintained in the interest of unity.

He explained that it is now early August and there was a possibility that Shahruddin may be retained until after the party elections at the end of the year.

“There maybe a minor reshuffle of the ‘problematic’ officers as not to rock the boat,” said the source, adding that the state chapter wanted to quell the growing uneasiness and frustration.

At the same time, the source said there have been grassroot voices that are calling for Shahruddin’s deputy, Nornekman Osman and also its Parit Sulong chief Mahdzir Ibrahim to helm the state chapter.

“Some members see Nornekman, son of late Johor mentri besar Datuk Osman Sapian, as a possible replacement as he is said to be loyal Mukhriz who is the party’s president.

“On the other hand, Mahdzir’s name came about as he is known as a former DAP man who was not from Umno or Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). This is seen as giving a fresh approach to the state chapter,” said the source.

However, the source added that there is no conclusive decision on the matter yet.

Malay Mail has tried reaching out to several Pejuang leaders and is still awaiting feedback.

Being a Malay-Muslim based party, Pejuang has viewed Johor, especially its rural Malay areas, as an important frontline state.

However, the party’s recent Johor state election participation revealed their weakness in the state as well as struggling to be relevant as the Malay-Muslim support has slowly returned to Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) after GE14 in 2018.