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Testing transition

Corrected 11.20am on 2 April 2009

IT might be interesting to find out what Datuk Seri Najib Razak privately thinks of his impending succession as prime minister of Malaysia, which looks set to happen tomorrow, 3 April 2009.

Penny for your thoughts (Public domain)

Would he perhaps be comparing the responses towards him with those towards Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi when Abdullah succeeded Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in October 2003? When Abdullah took over as prime minister, Malaysians experienced a different kind of shock to the system. After more than two decades, the country was going to have a new leader and the country sighed with relief. Abdullah was seen as a combination of Mr Clean and Mr Nice Guy.

So high were Abdullah’s approval ratings that he helped the Barisan Nasional (BN) win 198 out of 219 parliamentary seats in the 2004 general election. That translated into an unheard-of 90% seat majority in Parliament.

Contrast this with public perceptions of Najib right now. For one thing, Najib simply cannot make rumours alleging his involvement in the killing of Mongolian national Altantuya (corrected) Shaariibuu go away.

Unprecedented disapproval

Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah notes that Najib is approaching the nation’s highest office with allegations of corruption and involvement in a murder clinging on to him like radioactive material.

“None of our previous prime ministers came to that high position with any question at all of their integrity. Not Tunku Abdul Rahman, not Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn or Mahathir or Abdullah Badawi,” Razaleigh tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.

Razaleigh stresses that the allegations against Najib are unproven, but adds: “By the same token, they are also unanswered allegations.

“Until these questions are resolved, I don’t see how Najib can have the credibility to carry out his large promises of reform. I also find it difficult to see how he will bring Malaysians closer to each other,” Razaleigh says.

He adds that the political manoeuvres in Perak have also damaged Najib’s reputation for respect for the rule of law.

Noting that his views may not be popular within some Umno quarters, Razaleigh argues that “I don’t live in a bubble. I am only repeating obvious truths, known to all our citizens and to the rest of the world.” 

Razaleigh is not the only one with anxieties about Najib, that’s for certain. Former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who was expelled from Umno in 2008, also raised similar concerns in a public speech on 18 March. Zaid concluded: “If a referendum were to be conducted on the subject, or if the prime minister was to be elected directly by the rakyat, I do not think Najib Razak would succeed.”

The public are also increasing the pressure. On 4 Jan, an online petition was launched: “We have no confidence in [Najib] as Prime Minister of Malaysia.” As at 7.45am on 2 April 2009, the petition has collected 5,640 signatures. (Corrected) Lawyer-cum-blogger Haris Ibrahim says the signatures from the public will be directed to 141 Members of Parliament for them to raise the matter.

Other political options

Additionally, sectors of civil society are imagining other political possibilities apart from the convention of having the Umno president automatically assume the premiership.

While not directly refering to Najib, Sisters in Islam (SIS) member Nik Noriani Nik Badli Shah says in an e-mail interview, “The people need to be reminded that it was only a practice. Constitutionally, the members of the Dewan Rakyat, elected by the people, should have a say in the appointment of the PM, not the delegates of one political party nominated only by the party members.”

Razaleigh goes even further. The Umno politician says Najib’s claim to the prime ministership is established through a party election process that people, inside and outside of Umno, recognise as “undemocratic” and “corrupt”. 

He notes that while Najib seems popular among Umno delegates, nobody can really tell how popular he is among Umno members “because the matter is never put to an electoral test.”

“There was no contest for the presidency at the elections [in this instance either],” Razaleigh, who did not garner enough nominations to contest the position in the recently concluded party polls, adds.

More troubling, he says, is that it didn’t appear that the integrity of the party and national leadership was a priority at the 59th Umno general assembly.  “I attended three days of the general assembly, and never once heard a mention of any of these issues [surrounding Najib].”

Instead, he said, members and observers got a lot of “melodrama about love, reconciliation and everlasting loyalty.”

Worldwide trends

But is it merely the rumours alleging Najib’s involvement in Altantuya’s murder that are fueling the discomfort towards him?

MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek thinks otherwise.

“Najib has inherited the presidency of Umno and the leadership of the country at the most difficult time for the BN and Malaysia,” he says in a phone interview.

“By comparison, Abdullah inherited a strong BN and a country with a relatively stable economy, while Najib will have to lead us out of a possibly protracted recession,” Chua says.

If anything, Chua adds, the Chinese Malaysian community feels that Najib’s Achilles heel will be the economy, not politics.

“You see, anywhere in the world, when there is an economic downturn, the political incumbency will suffer,” he says.

Chua Soi Lek
Chua has a point. Governments such as Iceland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Madagascar have all collapsed due to the current financial crisis.

Unlike Najib’s detractors, however, Chua has faith in Najib.

“He has a strong party and BN support. He has a wealth of experience. He is a good listener, with a good brain and a good memory. He is friendly,” says Chua.

Chua also dismisses fears that Najib could resort to even more strong-arm tactics than his predecessor in quelling dissent.

One point to ponder, however, is that even a hugely popular prime minister like Abdullah could have his fortunes reversed within a single term. What then can a decidedly unpopular figure like Najib expect?  

Razaleigh concurs. “Reform is not a walk in the park. You need a leader of real political strength and unimpeachable character to make it happen,” he says, directing people to look at Abdullah’s own record.

“If Pak Lah could do so little with one of the biggest electoral mandate ever, and with a solid reputation as Mr Clean, I am not sure what reforms Najib can undertake with the smallest mandate ever; four states under the opposition and one in constitutional crisis; a racially and religiously divided rakyat; an economic crisis; and the most gravely tainted reputation the nation has ever seen in a candidate for prime minister.

“These are the facts, I’m afraid, and we have to acknowledge them whatever our political affiliations.”

Disclosure: Shanon Shah is an associate member of Sisters in Islam.

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11 Responses to “Testing transition”

  1. Eric says:

    It would be interesting to see how BN would fare in polls or surveys if there was an even playing field. You knowlah, exotic stuff like an SPR actually doing their job impartially, a PDRM solely interested in actually protecting people, a politics-free AG and Chief Judge, etc.

    I feel their claim of owning the kerajaan would not be so accurate after all.

  2. R.Prem Kumar says:

    The rakyat are blissfully unaware of the facts as yet but when the purses tighten and the economic disparity weighs (us down) with considerable hardship, then their levels of perceptions will rise to the fact that Umno put on an entertainment of Bollywood standards. One can only watch a good movie only so many times. But not on an impoverished tummy.

  3. PM says:

    Najib will never be my PM until he is perpared to clear his name with regards to the Altantunya case and his alleged involvement in the very high broking commission that was paid out in the French submarine deal. I believe most right-minded Malaysians feel the same way as I do.

  4. Andrew I says:

    One can almost feel Ku Li’s frustration. Couldn’t do it then, can’t do it now. Never give in. Ask Anwar.

    On the other hand, those who have something to salvage wouldn’t be as candid, would they now?

  5. Sam says:

    How can a rotten tree bear good fruits?
    How can a tainted PM bring about glory to his country?
    How can a country with rotten institutions and a discredited judiciary give hope to a future Malaysia?

    Good governance cannot be plucked out of thin air. Perhaps only Najib can…………… his dream?

  6. chinhuatw says:

    The BN won 199 out of 219 seats in 2004, after the court decision in June that handed over the Pasir Putih seat from PAS to Umno. So, we normally refer to the 11th Parliament as the one where BN enjoyed a 91% majority.

  7. asianguy says:

    We’ll have a PM in Najib who will be seen by the whole world as corrupt, and as a murderer. You may be able to suppress this in Malaysia by threats of arrest, but the rest of the world operates on a more level playing field. He will also be held to ransom by the French authorities which I’m sure have evidence of these wrongdoings but are simply waiting for the right time to show their cards.

  8. wargabebas says:

    This transition of power is nothing but a joke, a charade if one can call it that. This change of guard is perpetuated by the dissatisfaction of the dominant party in the ruling coalition. There is no consultation with its partner parties. Therefore, BN as it is known is nothing but a sham. What MCA or MIC have to say carries no weight. Umno pushes all the buttons and pulls all the gears, period.

  9. wattheheck says:

    After all is said and done, you should just sit back and let Najib prove you wrong TR.

  10. tengku mohd faizal says:

    I agree with you, give that guy (even though he won uncontested) some breathing space. You guys commented as if you guys are better than him. If you guys are, in the next GE, go stand in Pekan. Don’t waste your anger here. I’m not from Pekan and I’m not even a registered voter, but I bet he has helped many people in Pekan. But you guys seem to ignore this fact.

  11. bee yong says:

    Let’s be realistic. If you are elected to be a leader of a country by a “small fraction” of the population and the country is now facing a desperate and uncertain economy, your first priority is to service this “small fraction”. Without this “small fraction”, you would not last long as a leader. Half the cake will be given to “fraction” and what is left for you and me are tiny crumbs on the toilet floor.

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