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2 years into the job, Sanusi's popularity with Kedahans set to return him as MB

Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor is often criticised for making immature and inappropriate statements, but his get-at-able approach may in fact be working in his favour.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor (second row, centre) with a group of motorcyclists at a motor festival in Sungai Petani last month. Photo: Bernama
Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor (second row, centre) with a group of motorcyclists at a motor festival in Sungai Petani last month. Photo: Bernama

Outside a shopping centre in Alor Setar town, a group of young food delivery riders lounge about chatting as they wait for orders.

Laughter fills the air as they debate a question of particular interest.

"Is it fun, having a menteri besar who's famous on social media for fooling around and making jokes?"

The person they refer to is Muhamad Sanusi Md Nor, who was appointed as Kedah's 14th menteri besar to replace Mukhriz Mahathir after he lost the majority support of his state assemblymen two years ago, in May 2020. 

Since then, Sanusi has spent a considerable amount of time in the public eye, especially on social media where users often criticise him for making immature statements. 

For the young delivery riders outside the mall, though, Sanusi appears to be a man of great modesty. 

They say his relaxed approach makes it easy for even villagers to stand shoulder to shoulder with their representatives and express their feelings.

"He's cool," they say. "He's the most good-natured menteri besar we have ever had."

As for his reputation for "trolling" others online, they chalk this down to others 
"teasing" him first – an apparent reference to the back and forth over football between Sanusi and Johor crown prince and Johor Darul Takzim owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim. 

Sanusi had, in a series of Facebook posts, uploaded several pictures of himself playing football in a comment on Tunku Ismail's statement on outstanding salary payments for Kedah team players. 

"I started playing football before you did," he said. "I'm still playing. Diet, what diet?"

Sanusi was also strongly criticised for a so-called joke on the freezer containers used to hold the bodies of Covid-19 victims in August last year. 

These, and other comments by the outspoken politician have often raised questions about the effect of his character on his political career. 

Analyst Mazlan Ali is inclined to agree with public sentiment, at least on the surface, questioning Sanusi's suitability for the role of menteri besar. 

"But then I realised that his character is similar to that of former Kedah menteri besar Azizan Abdul Razak," he said. 

"He has the same kind of style. When people want to put him down, he will get them back." 

Mazlan, of Universiti Teknologi Mara, said it was possible that Sanusi's character emerged naturally from the people in the state. 

"Actually, the people like leaders like this," he added, citing Sanusi's lack of protocol and readiness to chat with the man on the street.  

This, he said, might be enough for the people of Kedah to excuse Sanusi's "strange" comments, passing it off as another of his jokes. 

On how voters might view Sanusi, Mazlan said it would depend on which category they are from. 

Those from parties other than Sanusi's PAS, he said, would almost certainly consider him a "stupid" menteri besar who does not know how to do a good job. 

Urban voters are also likely to reject Sanusi as a candidate. 

"But Kedah is a small state, and the urban voters are not many in number," he said. 

"PAS is good at making inroads in the rural areas because there are many in Kedah who consider religion an important part of their lives."

But in urban centres, Mazlan added, PAS itself knew that it had no chance of winning.

He said a similar situation exists in Kelantan, which is also under PAS rule. 

"So if you ask if a menteri besar like Sanusi can survive or not, going by current political assessments, he does have a chance in Kedah," he said.  

Back in Alor Setar, an e-hailing driver who called himself Afiq said Sanusi was known even among visitors who come from other states. 

He said the passengers whom he picks up from the airport or hotels often ask him about the Jeneri assemblyman. 

"Is that the behaviour and attitude of most people from Kedah?" they ask. "Always fooling around and acting like a kid?"

In previous general elections, Afiq said, he had been disappointed by the gap between leaders and the ordinary people which made approaching the menteri besar impossible. 

"But Sanusi, he goes to the villages and he sits there and has a drink. No one puts up tents for him. He's a menteri besar who doesn't play golf," he said. 

"He plays football and rugby, sports that ordinary children play. So when people ask me questions like that, I always tell them: Sanusi is the best."