Najib Razak: A New Prime Minister Facing an Uncertain Future

30 December 2009

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Reading a booklet from Barry Wain, ‘Najib’s Challenge: Glory or Oblivion’ published by Research for Social Advancement (Refsa), it gave us an understanding that the newly appointed Prime Minister has a lot of hard work to do to gather the support of the people.

Being a politician who have faced pressures from the oppositions and bad impressions from the international media, he must find a way, urgently, to arrest the erosion in the government’s electoral appeal, or he will make history as the man who led one of the world’s longest-governing parties to defeat.

Moreover, Najib brings to the job so much political baggage that it has threatened to derail his prime ministerial ambitions. He has been linked to a Mongolian woman, 28, who was shot and blown up with specialized C4 plastic explosives in Malaysia in 2006. The woman’s former lover, an adviser to Najib, was cleared of ordering her death in a protracted court case that drew harsh public criticism and left vital questions unanswered. Two members of an elite police bodyguard unit assigned to Najib, who were asked by the adviser to “do something” about the woman because she was blackmailing him, had to answer murder charges.

Barry who is Writer-in-Residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies also mentioned how well the allegations on Najib’s corruption history. For example, the 114.96 million euros “coordination and support services” fee for Malaysia’s purchase in 2002 of two new Scorpene and one reconditioned Agosta submarine for 1.04 billion euros was paid to Perimekar Sdn. Bhd. Perimekar at the time was owned by a company called K.S. Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd.

UMNO, of course, is not Najib’s only immediate concern. With limited experience in finance, he must prepare to steer Malaysia through the global recession that is engulfing the region. He also is under pressure to address the extremely sensitive issue of affirmative action, still known colloquially by its original name, the New Economic Policy (NEP), which is a source of acute unhappiness among not just ethnic Chinese and Indians, but also increasing numbers of Malays without UMNO connections.

Significantly, it was when Najib was acting head of UMNO Youth in 1987 that he sounded a discordant racial note, which raised questions about him in the minds of non-Malays and dogged him for years. It came as communal tension had been building for weeks and he led a huge rally in Kuala Lumpur to confront what was perceived as a Chinese threat to Malay special rights. In the air were ethnic grievances on both sides, though the immediate issue was the government appointment of non-Mandarin-speaking Chinese to administrative posts in Chinese-medium primary schools. As party barriers were overrun by ethnicity, two National Front members, the Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan, joined with the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) on occasions in defence of Chinese interests.17 Najib was photographed at the demonstration with several other UMNO Youth leaders, wearing white headbands with their arms raised, above a banner naming four high-profile opponents, all ethnic Chinese and Indian (though one was a Muslim) and the words, “destroy them”. Followers waved other banners bearing racially provocative slogans. “Our elders should not compromise anymore”, said Najib. “We are simply fed up.”

Although Najib pronounced himself happy with the response to his direct appeal to the public, it did little to improve his image. Three months after the website appeared and three months before Najib was due to replace Abdullah, only 41 per cent of Malaysians thought he would be a good prime minister. Even the inept Abdullah had a 46 per cent approval rating in the poll, conducted by the independent Merdeka Centre. Voters were worried about the usual panoply of issues: the economy, race relations and equality, corruption and governance. After waiting more than three decades for his moment to lead the nation, Najib Razak is taking over “without the burden of overly high expectations”, as one report put it, but burdened on almost every other score.

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