Adnan Yaakob will be in the Middle East until next week.
But the Pahang Mentri Besar’s pen-between-his-toes stunt is still reverberating among Umno circles in his absence. Some were amused, others were shocked because displaying one’s stockinged foot during a state assembly sitting is not exactly parliamentary behaviour.
But Pahang politicians who are used to his maverick style were not surprised. Some of them have been treated before to his demonstrations of agility and they say that Tok Nan, as he is known, is just being himself.
Adnan was apparently brushing off rumours about his health when he suddenly sat down, removed the shoe from his left foot and raised it to his ear. Then he placed a pen between his toes to simulate the act of smoking a cigar.
It was his way of telling his critics that he was fit and healthy.
Adnan, 66, is certainly supple for his age because not many people can touch their ear with their foot or smoke using their toes but it was bizarre to say the least.
A day after the rather acrobatic display, he was in Kelantan to officiate at the Umno division AGM for Ketereh which is headed by Umno information chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa. There, he startled everyone when he said that he may not contest in the next general election.
“I have been in politics a long time. It might be timely to retire,” he said.
The next day, he urged the media not to blow his decision to call it day out of proportion. He said the decision lay with the top party leadership and the Sultan of Pahang but that God would have the final say.
All these incidents taking place over the space of a few days had many in Umno scratching their head, wondering what was going on.
Politicians almost never talk about retirement in public. It is quite taboo to them especially if they are holding high office.
But Adnan is a straight-talker and he pointed out that he has been an assemblyman for 30 years, of which 17 years were spent as Mentri Besar of Pahang. That is a pretty awesome record in politics.
Something was definitely cooking. The logical assumption is that Adnan knows it would be difficult to justify continuing for a fifth term as Mentri Besar, no matter how fit and agile he still is.
Moreover, there have been all kinds of stories about how the change in Mentri Besar was supposed to have taken place after the last general election.
Some claimed that the Prime Minister was ready to replace Adnan after the last general election but the Palace had asked to keep Adnan on for one more term. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who has excellent ties with the Pahang royals, reportedly obliged without a murmur.
Others said that the plan was to appoint new Mentris Besar for Pahang and Terengganu but Najib decided it would be unseemly to make the change in Pahang after Datuk Seri Ahmad Said of Terengganu asked for a one-year extension.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between but what is clear is that Adnan also enjoys an exceptionally warm relationship with the Pahang Sultan. He never says no to the palace and the royals like that.
The Pahang royals are somewhat like their counterpart in Johor. They are very hands-on and involved in what goes on in the state.
The Sultan of Pahang is known as the royal with the common touch. When he was younger and healthier, he would often be at the scene of any disaster affecting the state, be it a landslide burying an orang asli village or hikers getting lost in Taman Negara.
The Pahang royals make no bones about the fact that they support Umno. At the height of his troubles last year, Najib was able to declare at a rally in Kuantan that “the Sultan of Pahang supports me”.
It is also no secret that Najib and Adnan are not as close as some would expect. The Najib circle claimed that Adnan had not given his 100% support to Najib during last year’s 1MDB debacle.
For instance, they thought Adnan was playing politics by inviting Datuk Seri Shafie Abdal to officiate at his Bentong Umno division meeting last year. But this year, Adnan invited Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as his VIP guest.
Adnan is known for his habit of handwashing his own clothes, but he is no softie. He is one of those super macho type of politicians who feel they do not have to answer to anyone – except perhaps to the palace.
Rightly or wrongly, he has always had that sneaky feeling that Najib has been waiting for the opportunity to replace him. The time may be near and Adnan seems to be steeling himself for the eventuality.
The general perception is that Najib has his eye on Lanchang assemblyman and state exco member Datuk Sharkar Shamsuddin for the job. Sharkar, 53, is experienced, well-liked and a Najib loyalist.
However, Adnan appears to have other ideas and had brought a senior politician Datuk Shahiruddin Moin back into the state exco in 2013.
Shahiruddin, who is in his 60s, is also the Raub division chief. He is often by Adnan’s side at public functions, he has also represented the Mentri Besar at events and is now regarded as a contender for the top job.
The next Mentri Besar will likely be one of them and the palace will probably have the last say.
Well-placed sources say that Pahang may not be the only state to see a change in Mentri Besar. Three other states may have new Mentris Besar, and they are Terengganu, Kedah and Negri Sembilan,
But the stunner is this – the changes are supposed to take place well before the general election.
The sources suggest that Najib may bring it to the Umno general assembly scheduled for later this year to get the mandate for the change. It is a very important and sensitive matter that directly affects Umno, and he will want the endorsement and consensus of the party.
Knowing him, he will put it to the Umno delegates in a diplomatic way, presenting the state leadership changes as necessary for Umno to go into battle on a renewed and stronger footing. He will not hurt the image or feelings of those affected.
The change in Terengganu has been a foregone conclusion given the troubled administration of Mentri Besar Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman. Terengganu is in danger of falling to PAS and Najib has no choice but to bite the bullet if he wants to hold on to all that oil.
In Kedah, the concern revolves around Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah’s health. The Kedah Mentri Besar underwent surgery and was hospitalised for almost a month for “intestinal complications”, whatever that means.
Ahmad Bashah has been reticent about the nature of his illness and that has led to all kinds of speculation. A recent routine check-up sparked off rumours that he had been hospitalised again.
He is still in recovery mode and the worry is that he may not recover in time for the gruelling election campaign next year.
The plus side is that he has lost weight and now looks like a thirtysomething-year-old from the neck down. He used to be known for his charming smile but the weight loss has given him a rather jowly and gaunt look.
Good health is so important for those holding public office. US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s slipping polls rating in the wake of her health scare is a case in point.
Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan also had a minor health scare recently when he was taken ill while attending the Rembau Umno division AGM. But it turned out to be caused by an over-dosage of medication for his gastric problem.
Mat Hasan, as he is known, was parachuted into Negri Sembilan in 2004 to replace Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad who may be a small man but had left big shoes to be filled. Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in the state in 2008 and again in 2013.
Mat Hasan, 60, is intelligent, carries himself well and handsome to boot. This is his third term as Mentri Besar and the perception is that the Umno warlords in the state are still not with him.
The Umno divisional leaders control the local campaign machinery in an election. If the machinery does not run smoothly, Negri Sembilan will have problems again.
“The PM needs new captains to spearhead the machinery in these states,” said the above source.
All political leaders have a shelf life no matter how good or capable they are. They are, in some ways, like restaurants where people get tired of the same old fare after a while and crave for something new and different. But if you persist in serving the same menu, the voters will be tempted to try out a new restaurant.
The jury is still out on who Najib has in mind to take over in these three other states. But the candidates must have the “two Ps” – the ability to handle people and party. Najib is not going to do a Kajang Move in any of these states which means that those taking over must already be assemblymen.
The impending changes are seen as necessary to prevent a further slide in Barisan’s hold on power. Najib needs all the numbers he can muster to produce a better result in the general election.
The plan to usher in new Mentris Besar is very bold and ambitious but Najib, said the source, has to do it because the next general election is a do-or-die for him and his coalition.