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Mahathir confirms resignation of Johor chief minister

He declined to say why Osman Sapian has quit, but said there are three or four candidates for the post

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Dr Mahathir (right) with Osman Sapian in a recent photo. Speculation about Mr Osman's exit mounted when he was a no-show at the Malaysia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat on Tuesday. It has been said that the Johor palace is unhappy with how he handled the Sungai Kim Kim toxic gas contamination.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has confirmed the resignation of Johor chief minister Osman Sapian.

"The Johor Mentri Besar resigned yesterday via a letter to me and I will send the letter to the Johor Sultan," Dr Mahathir said on Tuesday.

Asked if there were potential candidates for the now-vacant post, he replied that there were three or four.

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The Star online newspaper reported him as having said that Johor's next Mentri Besar must hail from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, of which Dr Mahathir is chairman.

Asked for the reason behind Mr Osman's resignation, Dr Mahathir declined to elaborate: "No, we are not going to say why he stepped down. There was a reason given. But if he wants to step down, we accept.

"Osman met the Sultan, he submitted a resignation letter to me and another to the Johor Sultan. I have the right to read it," he quipped, drawing laughter from reporters.

Speculation about Mr Osman's exit as Johor Mentri Besar mounted with his absence from the Malaysia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat on Tuesday.

It is understood that the Johor palace is dissatisfied with the way he handled the Sungai Kim Kim toxic gas contamination, which led to the closure of 111 schools in southern Johor.

Among the contenders for the Mentri Besar post are Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal, who is from Bersatu, and Johor state Youth, Sports and Culture Committee chairman Mohd Khuzzan Abu Bakar, who is from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Earlier on Tuesday, Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim tweeted that Mr Osman would be replaced following orders from Sultan Ibrahim, who had decreed months ago for a successor to be found, Malay Mail reported.

The Crown Prince said it is the Sultan's absolute prerogative to appoint Johor's MB, and expressed hope that Mr Osman's successor would focus on Johor's people instead of being a sycophant of the federal government.

The crown prince also said he is ready to face any criminal action if he has indeed made any seditious remarks. He was responding to the comment by Dr Mahathir that the royal was not above the law.

In a tweet on Tuesday, he wrote: "Sila (Please do), if I have to go down for upholding the Constitution, the Malay rulers and Islam, by all means, you know where to find me. Like a normal citizen, I have the right to ask questions and give my opinion. I'm all yours. Finish what you start."

Dr Mahathir told reporters earlier that the Johor Crown Prince was free to criticise the Pakatan government as long he didn't break any law. "If there are statements that are deemed seditious, we will take action against him. He is not above the law."

In an earlier tweet, Tunku Ismail had also asked why the Rome Statute issue has taken centrestage: "I am informed that there will be a big demonstration before June 1, orchestrated to put pressure on the Malay rulers for the government to proceed with the Rome Statute. The question is why the statute has become the main agenda of the government when many issues of the rakyat (the people) should be prioritised?"

The Malaysian government has, controversially, reversed its decision to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on fears of a coup d'etat. The ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Critics of the Rome Statute, including the Johor Sultan and his Crown Prince, say it would undermine the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the Malay rulers.