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The decline and fall of Najib

 | February 8, 2013

The prime minister had the perfect opportunity to act, but he neglected to do so. Consumed by greed and power, like many politicians in Malaysia, he looked the other way.

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As soon as Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announces the date for 13th general election, it will probably sound his political death knell.

For the benefit of the rakyat, and in front of the television cameras and news photographers, Najib and his Cabinet present a united front; but behind the scenes, another story emerges.

Damaging leaks about the shortcomings of his leadership continue to undermine Najib. His grip on the party is tenuous. His strongest ally, the self-styled First Lady Rosmah Mansor, will do her utmost to ensure he succeeds.

Last month, the independent organisation, the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, found that Najib had high popularity ratings of 63% among voters in Peninsular Malaysia.

For the sake of “completeness”, why not a survey among voters in Sabah and also, Sarawak? It would have been interesting to gauge Najib’s popularity in Sabah, before and during the proceedings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) for Sabah.

If the same survey had been conducted among ministers in Najib’s own Cabinet, the results would be a good gauge of their confidence in his leadership.

The war that is being waged against Najib is on two fronts – he has to defend himself against the opposition and fight off guerrilla raids from invisible enemies, within Umno.

Najib, the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, has had a poor grounding in life. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he is only exposed to the suffering of the rakyat, in the months before election. To alleviate their pain, Najib distributes bags of rice and food, and tars their roads, rather than sorting out the issues which have plagued the people, over the past five years.

The prime minister’s privileged schooling is denied to the ordinary Malaysian. Najib may have been a product of a mission school, but mission schools are dying a slow death, deprived of money and support from the Education Ministry.

In his secondary schooling at Malvern College, a Church of England school, Najib would have attended daily chapel services, compulsory Sunday service, Remembrance Sunday, and Carol services in the Christmas term.

Najib has remained a Muslim despite attending these services, but he would have gained a thorough understanding of Christianity. Despite that, he has said nothing to persuade the extremists in Malaysia to practise tolerance and moderation.

He missed the chance

What can one expect from a career politician? When he defended his father’s seat, which had become vacant on his death, he won, presumably because of the sympathy votes.

How can a man who has not experienced the perils faced by the unskilled worker, the struggling graduate, working man and father know what it is like to live in Malaysia, where house prices are beyond most people’s reach, where car prices are jacked up, where justice is sold to the highest bidder and where most services require a sweetener? Najib’s education has not been put to good use to help his fellow Malaysian.

This privileged son of a former premier has been in politics for almost 37 years. Those years have been marred by scandal and sexual intrigue. They have been stained by corruption and murder. The highlights are excesses and abuse of power. Najib started his premiership by betraying the Perak people. He claimed that he would tackle corruption but became deeply embroiled in it, himself.

When he became prime minister, Najib portrayed himself as a moderate, and his calls for moderation won praise from the delegates at the UN’s 65th General Assembly. The hollowness of his claims could damn him at the polls because he failed to take any action against Ibrahim Ali, the leader of a right-wing extremist Malay NGO, when he announced that he would torch Malay language Bibles.

Some quarters say that Najib’s weakness stems from his lack of control over his wife’s behaviour and spending habits. This is a disservice to women. What has a man’s poor leadership qualities got to do with his ability to “control” his wife? Do some Malaysian men marry to exert control?

When Najib announced his “1-Malaysia” slogan, Muhyiddin Yassin, his deputy, was among the first to stick a knife into him, thus precipitating further murmurings of dissatisfaction within Umno.

Perhaps, his only solace was to go abroad, which he did with increasing regularity. This did not endear him to the rakyat, as problems were mounting at home, and remained unresolved.

Embattled by dissatisfied and equally power-hungry Umno politicians, Najib found that he also had to dodge the master tactician, the former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. With a legacy to protect and a dynasty to propagate, Mahathir has already hinted that Najib should step down and hand over power to Muhyiddin.

The knives are already being sharpened in Putrajaya and Umno MPs are probably stoked up and on red alert, awaiting their orders, not from Najib, but from Mahathir. No other politician has perfected the art of treachery and vindictiveness, like the weasel Mahathir.

When Najib came to power, the country was sliding in many aspects: corruption, national debt, illegal immigration, unemployment among graduates, violence, crime, racist attacks, religious intolerance.

The prime minister had the perfect opportunity to act, but he neglected to do so. Consumed by greed and power, like many politicians in Malaysia, he looked the other way.

It was said that Mahathir would allow his ministers and cronies to be corrupt, so that he would have a “hold” over them and demand favours from them, in the future.

Najib is aware that the rakyat is consumed with hate for Mahathir. He knows that this country has lost faith in its once trusted institutions, and crucially, in itself.

Najib could have used the rakyat’s venom to regain the nation’s trust in its politicians, but he misused this chance.

Najib had the power to change things around and save Malaysia, but he fell prey to avarice and temptation. The “1Malaysia” that he governs is far less united than the Malaya that he was born into.

That is why, come GE13, it is the rakyat who will have to drag itself out of its apathy and make that change happen – for ourselves, our children and for the country.

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.


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