KUALA LUMPUR: Three months after his fall from power, Najib Razak appears to have taken a softer and more pragmatic approach in speaking about the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, saying he hopes it will do better than did the administration he led.
In an interview with FMT at his house in Taman Duta, the former prime minister maintained his combative mode, but appeared anxious to balance this with an attitude people would associate with genuine statesmen. “I hope I’m wrong” was an expression he used quite frequently to punctuate remarks that were critical of PH.
“I care for the country,” he said, when asked why he hoped to be proven wrong when it is in a politician’s nature to hope to be right.
Najib’s life is now transformed. He has become an ordinary Umno member after leading the party and the government for nine years.
It’s been more than 100 days since he and his Putrajaya team watched in horror as Barisan Nasional (BN) forts crumbled one after another in the face of PH’s onslaught.
But Najib now sees a sort of blessing in defeat. He says he gets to meet more ordinary Malaysians than just the ones who are his constituents in Pekan and, he adds, these people have enriched his outlook in ways that never crossed his mind when he wore the prime minister’s hat.
“I have made adjustments to my life,” he said, as he sat on a curved bench at one corner of the spacious hall, where large portraits of his younger self and his wife overlooked an array of crystalware and a floor full of carpets.
“When I was prime minister, I was very very busy running the government. Every day there were countless people I had to meet, meetings to chair, files to clear. I didn’t have enough time to talk to ordinary Malaysians.”
While many Malaysians still can’t get used to seeing Najib as an ordinary citizen, the once most powerful man in the country said he treasured every moment of his life out of power.
“If there’s one thing I cherish now, it is the fact that I can spend more time talking to the average Malaysians, to get their feedback, views, perspectives, even their criticism,” he said.
His current days as an ordinary politician are not the utopia he might have longed for during his busy nine years in power, when he set out to establish his own legacies with a slew of acronyms and hard-to-remember abbreviations.
He said Malaysians who voted PH into power must have also longed for a utopia, the kind they saw in the coalition’s manifesto, which he ridiculed as a book of promises.
He said the promises of cheap petrol, abolition of tolls and cancellation of student debts, among other things, “had not come to fruition”.
Citing online surveys, he said “some 80%” of Malaysians now “feel they have been let down by the PH government”.
Good things to say
But he had some good things to say about PH, including about the man who spearheaded the fight that felled him, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He said he supported the prime minister’s call for Malaysians to master more than one language. “I think it’s a very positive call in view of the globalised world today.”
He also welcomed the education ministry’s announcement to retain the BN-era educational blueprint. “It’s working and I’m glad that the PH government intends to continue with the educational blueprint that we launched.”
However, he refused to be drawn into commenting on the perceived rifts within the ruling parties or the alleged plot to block Anwar Ibrahim from taking over as prime minister.
He said he had long accepted the will of the people and wished that the new government would turn out better than his.
“Today, there’s a lot of concern as to the future of Malaysia,” he said, and again quickly added: “I hope I’m wrong. I hope the new government can make things better.”
However, he said the government should stop “making excuses” for its shortcomings or blaming the previous administration for its inability to overcome them.
“I hope the Malaysia of tomorrow will be a better Malaysia,” he added.
Even as he faces a multitude of charges for alleged power abuse, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, the former leader wishes well for those who have been pushing him to the dock.
“The people gave them the chance to lead,” he said. “They have to show leadership.”
Since being out of power, Najib has issued dozens of statements that seem to be more issues-focused than those he released as prime minister. He was then more likely to put out propaganda pictures than to make meaty statements. When this was pointed out to him, he reluctantly acknowledged it.
So where was this issue-driven politician called Najib Razak before the May 9 polls?
“The pre-May 9 Najib Razak was more focused on running the country,” he said.
“If there’s one big mistake I made, it would be in not addressing the issues hurled at us in a direct way. I preferred to leave it to others to talk about them. We had a good defence, but maybe the rakyat wanted me to be out in the fore to talk about those things.”
He did not. He let others do the talking and now regrets the costly mistake, one that has denied him another five years of leadership and is threatening to push Umno and BN into political oblivion.
He said he thought the people would not believe the rhetoric against him and his government “since a lot of the allegations were unfounded and were lies”.
“I was wrong,” he said, perhaps to emphasise his statements about hoping not to be wrong again.