Najib Going Down

By Pauline Wong


On March 8, 2008, at the 12th General Elections, the unthinkable happened to the all-powerful United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

For over four decades, they enjoyed unshakeable control over two-thirds of Parliament, and played ‘big brother’ to the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) in Barisan Nasional (BN).

They lost all that in 2008, when the loose coalition of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), People’s Justice Party (PKR) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) denied Barisan Nasional, for the first time, the two-third majority and control of five state governments.

To say that everyone, the opposition included, were shocked is an understatement.

This is because just four years before, at the 2004 11th General Elections, Umno had reached a new high with the new Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, stepping forward after 22 years of Mahathir Mohamad as premier. They obliterated the already-small opposition, leaving DAP, PKR and PAS with mere handfuls of seats between them — about 20 seats or so.

Abdullah, seen as more ‘clean’ and transparent than his predecessor, was elected in on a hope, and on a promise of change.

His ‘Mr Clean’ image, it turns out, could not save his political career in the end.

The years leading up to the 2008 elections proved Abdullah’s downfall, largely due to fuel price hikes, failure to weed out corruption, and the infamous 2005 ‘keris’ incident, where then-Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had brandished the traditional Malay weapon during the Umno general assembly.

Abdullah stepped down in 2009, paving way for current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to take the reins

Najib, eldest son of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, Abdul Razak, took over Umno and BN at a time when it was weakest, and then led the party to similar results in the 2013 general elections — although Umno gained back some of the seats it lost in 2008, MCA and MIC were practically wiped out.

This ‘history’ lesson, you may think, is superfluous, but people do say that history repeats itself. Perhaps the time has never been more suitable to remind everyone that today, as calls grow louder for Najib to step down, the same thing that happened to Abdullah in 2009 could very well happen to Najib after the 14th general elections in 2017.

And it also bears reminding that for Abdullah and Najib, they have one man in common: Mahathir.


The Mahathir Effect


Mahathir made no secret of the fact that he disapproved of his successor, for reasons one can only guess and speculate. He openly expressed his disappointment in Abdullah — but the Umno that Mahathir left behind for Abdullah, to some, little resembled the Umno that the old guards like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah knew.

The Umno that Mahathir ruled was, to many, corrupted and riddled with scandals, none of which ever came to light as Mahathir in his time made it clear that criticism was not tolerated and those who dared, were punished with the Internal Security Act (ISA).

But that is a story for another time.

From 2009, Najib proved himself to be somewhat more moderate than Mahathir, and, to his credit, has often openly spoken about moderation, unity, tolerance, and acceptance between all religions and races.

His Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and Economic Transformation Plan (ETP) which he mooted in 2009, are, objectively speaking, good ideas and to some extent, a good plan going forward.

Yet his GTP and ETP are the epitome of what ails the government today — good ideas, terrible execution.

One cannot help but think that the reason this happens is because Najib, unlike Mahathir, seemingly surrounds himself with bad advisers who tell him what he wants to hear, and not what he should be hearing.

One anecdote that former Ministers of Mahathirs’ cabinet often tell is how Mahathir kept with him a small notebook at all times, inside which he would note down his observations and thoughts on everything, from burnt-out street lamps he saw on his way back from work to the dirty streets of Kuala Lumpur. In fact, he would start every Cabinet meeting by opening that notebook.

One can only guess how Najib starts his Cabinet meetings — by opening a chequebook, perhaps, to pay the slew of consultants he allegedly hires to manage his image and the image of the Malaysian government overseas.

From the Performance Management Delivery Unit (Pemandu) which he set up to oversee the GTP and ETP, to the bevy of consultants he hires, to the rest of his Cabinet — Najib seems to be getting very, very bad advice indeed.

Where he should have spoken out clearly on matters of religion and race, he stayed silent. Where he should have made an effort to recognise the plight of the people over rising costs and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), he chose to talk about how kangkung prices have gone down instead.

And where he should have listened to his own advise and kept to his pledges to repeal the archaic and oppressive Sedition Act, he bowed to pressure from within Umno to keep it instead — nay, not only keep it, but make it worse than before.

He bought into the ‘all-is-well’ narrative of Pemandu in its annual GTP and ETP reports, instead of seeing for himself the plain truth that the rakyat are struggling with many issues, chief of them being crime, cost of living, housing, education and healthcare.

But how could he not?

During the general election campaign in 2013, BN campaign events were packed with people from all corners, waiting to catch a glimpse of him. Under fancy air-conditioned tents, and on a well-lit stage, with delicious refreshments at the side, the audience cheered for him and waved ‘I love PM’ signs. They sang the 1Malaysia song, and he would, in many speeches, remark on how good the support is for BN.

And, from this point, one is simply speculating: that behind the rousing cheers, Najib never did see the fleet of express buses parked nearby these event venues, buses which had ferried the audience from one location to another to make up the crowds, nor did he ever see the white styrofoam packets of food which they offered the people who came to the events on those buses.

One could be wrong, of course, and those people could have genuinely come to support Najib.

But having the red carpet rolled out before your feet each time you arrive at an event could perhaps alter your depth perception as to the real support from the people.

Again, one is simply speculating, for surely Najib can tell the difference between supporters and sycophants.

But if he cannot tell the difference between the two, then it could mean that Mahathir, the looming shadow under which both Abdullah and Najib stand, would have his wish of Najib resigning.

Mahathir is making no secret of his disapproval of Najib either, and it all begins with a few well-placed comments, well-timed blog posts, and a good nose for sniffing out weakness… just like how he went in for the (for the lack of a better word) kill when Abdullah suffered his 2008 defeat.

BN and Najib at their weakest yet

Like Abdullah, the issues which plague Najib are similar, except that instead of fuel hikes, there is the unpopular GST.

The GST, which was implemented on April 1, has so far been a thorn in the side of Umno and BN, since they continue to try to convince people that a tax which cuts into the wallets of the young, old, the rich, and the poor is actually good for the people.

The confusion that ensued following implementation proved that the government was ill-prepared to put it in practise, but did it anyway to cover up debt problems and the budget deficit.

There also is the debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad, an investment fund so convoluted and complicated in its alleged deception that even the financially-savvy MPs like Rafizi Ramli and Tony Pua have a hard time explaining it to the people.

Until now, not even Najib’s best PR consultant can repair his image over 1MDB, and the scripted, evasive answers he provided in his blog,, did little to alleviate the situation.

In fact, Mahathir in his latest salvo (at the time of writing) said that Najib rebutted ‘nothing’ in doing so. And, aside from speaking vaguely about Mahathir at ‘safe’ spaces, Najib has yet to actually directly respond to Mahathir’s critiques.

Najib has also been silent about the allegations of overspending, but in this case, we need not go too much into detail. After all, the last time a newspaper pointed out how much the government was spending on utility bills for Seri Perdana, private jets, consultants and the like, it was suspended for a month.

DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng said that Najib should face Mahathir like a “gladiator in the arena”, but what if Najib ended up being the lamb led to slaughter instead?

Yes, Najib is in a shaky position indeed, and despite the numerous BN ministers and MPs who have come forward to pledge their support to him, it isn’t yet clear that this will help Najib save his toppling house of cards.

But should Najib really go?

If you ask former deputy minister Saifuddin Abdullah, the answer is no.

In a recent interview with newsportal MalaysiaKini, the former Umno supreme council member and Temerloh MP said it is in Umno’s best interest to stick with Najib as the chances of winning the next general election will be higher.

Saifuddin, who is now the CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, has earned a reputation of being the sole ‘dissenting’ voice in Umno on many crucial matters. He has openly spoken out against the Sedition Act, and he was a fierce advocate against the restrictive University and University Colleges Act.

Seen as the only moderate voice in an increasingly right-wing Umno, Saifuddin is no apologist, but he sees the direction in which Umno will go if Najib is not its president.

“You can have a new president and prime minister, but if you start moving to the right, I think we (Umno) might do even worse in the next general election. My bet is still (to) remain with what we have (Najib as Umno president),” he told the newsportal.

In fact, in previous interviews with Saifuddin both by The Rocket and others, he alluded as much that for Najib to step down is not the best way forward for the party.

If Najib does get pushed out, however, it may turn out to be Pakatan Rakyat’s best chance to win the general elections since, well, ever.

Even DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang in a statement last month said that the events unfolding over the next months can be the once-in-a-lifetime chance to topple BN.

“The biggest news headlines in the past two days have been the RM42 billion 1MDB scandal and its latest edition, the RM188 million 1MDB-Lembaga Tabung Haji (LTH) bailout with LTH paying 1MDB for  1.56 acres of Tun Razak Exchange (TRX)  land at  RM2,773 per square foot, which is 43 times more than 1MDB had acquired from the Federal Government four years ago at less than RM64 per square foot.

“Events are unfolding at  rapid pace in UMNO over the ability of Datuk Seri Najib Razak to survive as Malaysia’s sixth Prime Minister and UMNO President.

“All this raises the question, whether UMNO/BN could be toppled in the next 14th General Elections, and the answer is a categorical and a positive “Yes”,” he said.

However, Lim warned of the loss of this rare chance if PR cannot survive as a coalition in the next few months, especially in the stalemate between DAP and PAS over the matter of hudud implementation.

In not so many words, the defeat of Najib does not mean the victory of PR. In this case, then, is it truly in the best interests of PR and the people that Najib is brought down?

For now, the call from the crowd is for Najib to step down for all his perceived incompetencies, and the rest of the BN/Umno government with him.

Out of the fire, into the frying pan?


The crowd, however, unsurprisingly includes those from within Umno itself. Just a few weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was caught on video during a Pahang Umno closed-door meet, openly calling for the board of 1MDB to be sacked… and although the name Najib was never mentioned, Muhyiddin referenced the ‘president of Umno’ several times.


He had, in that short 7-minute video which went viral, been seen to be ‘criticising’ his boss over the 1MDB scandal, which for him, is absolutely uncharacteristic.


That Najib was conveniently absent from this Umno meet is… most telling.


However, sometimes it is a case of be careful what you wish for, because the person who replaces Najib is, at the rate things are going, could be Muhyiddin — and he is yet an unknown, if shadowy, entity.


After all, Abdullah stepped down only to be replaced by Najib, was he not? And as ever, Mahathir is in the background, not-so-silently passing judgement on his successors.

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