Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mohd Najib's Position as DPM in Precarious Situation

Are Najib’s days numbered?
by Raja Petra Kamarudin.

They have a saying in Malaysia; money controls all, or MCA for short. I wonder if that is why MCA is called a towkay’s party. Certainly MCA is all about big business. Whatever it may be though, MCA is just a running dog to Umno, the big brother in the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional. Barisan Nasional has this unwritten rule; the Chinese control the money while the Malays control the politics of the country. Nevertheless, once you are rich, then you would like a bit of political power and vice versa; once you have political power you would like to become rich.

And that is one of the many reasons I am not in politics; the temptation to get rich is just too strong and in politics you have access to power and can easily succumb to temptation. Now, I can only dream about getting rich, but I have absolutely no power to become so. The second reason I shun politics is because as a politician you cannot say what you mean and cannot mean what you say. You have to play the role of hypocrite and I would rather be free to speak with no holds barred and without fear or favour. The third reason of course is that all roads to Putrajaya are through Umno. So, to walk through the corridors of power, one must first walk through the halls of Umno, and that does not appeal to me at all.

While the Umno politicians may not have the kind of money that the Chinese have, this does not mean that they do not have access to money. Sure, the Chinese make money the ‘old fashioned way’, through hard work and by doing business, but the Umno politicians can instead make money through using, or more aptly, abusing the power and authority that they have at their disposal. When you walk through the corridors of power it is so easy to utilise the nation’s coffers as if it was own private piggy bank. And they certainly do this to the hilt.

In September last year, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spent RM600 million of the country’s money to dish out to the 191 Umno division heads. Each division received RM3 million which in turn was distributed to a few selected division committee members whose support they needed. The expenditure was slotted under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (RMK9) and the fact that neither Parliament nor the Cabinet approved the spending appeared to be of no concern to all and sundry. You would have imagined that Malaysians would have become outraged at this blatant abuse of power, but quite surprisingly everyone took it in their stride.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak realises that this does not augur well for him. Whosoever controls the 191 Umno division heads ultimately controls the country. It is the 191 Umno division heads who decide who gets to become the party President and Deputy President. And it is customary that the Umno President and Deputy President become the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively though there is no law that says this must be so.

An anti-Najib movement or Gerakan Anti-Najib (GAN) was launched last year to hammer the final nails into Najib’s coffin. Najib at first pooh-poohed the whole thing and passed it off as mere talk to create a rift between him and his boss. And his ‘boss’ as far as he was concerned means the Prime Minister. But, sadly, the Prime Minister does not regard himself as Najib’s boss. Najib’s boss, as far as Abdullah Badawi is concerned, is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. It was Mahathir who insisted that Najib be appointed the number two. If left to Abdullah Badawi it would have been Muhyiddin Yassin instead of Najib who would today be the Deputy Prime Minister.

Najib is finally sitting up and taking note of the move to remove him. It has finally dawned on him that he has lost the support of his benefactor, Mahathir. As what Mahathir said, it is very difficult for Najib to isolate and insulate himself from the Mongolian girl murder fiasco. Whether he is really involved or not is another matter. It is what the public perceive is what counts. Maybe the Attorney-General did make his most unusual and uncalled for public announcement even before the trial had commenced that only three people and no others are involved in the murder. The fact that he even needed to make such an announcement speaks volumes for what is being said behind the scenes. Why the need to clarify that no one else was involved? This clarification only makes the talk that others are involved spread stronger and further.

It is not what the Attorney-General said that matters. It is not even what the trial is going to drag up that matter. Politics is about perception and it is what people perceive that matters. And people perceive that Najib and/or his wife are somehow involved in the murder. This is certainly grossly unfair, but politics is not about fairness. It is about perception and perception can most times be very unfair.

Najib at first thought that all he needed to do was to sit pretty and show support to the Prime Minister and that would be a safe enough stance. In the Mahathir-Abdullah skirmish, Najib decided to throw his support behind the Prime Minister thinking that this would be a strong message as to where his loyalty lies. But the gesture was not taken at face value. While he did not succeed in convincing Abdullah Badawi of his loyalty, at the same he also lost the support of Mahathir who now can see clearly that his second biggest mistake was in forcing Abdullah’s hand in taking Najib as the number two.

One-time Umno Treasurer and Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin met the Prime Minister recently at the behest of the latter. What Abdullah Badawi told Daim could only be interpreted as the beginning of the end for Najib. Daim, being the direct-speaking man that he is, bluntly asked Abdullah Badawi why he brought forward Razak Baginda’s trial a full year. Abdullah Badawi replied that it was not him but someone in his office who was behind it. ‘Someone in his office’ can only mean one person, Khairy Jamaluddin, his son-in-law.

Abdullah Badawi made it very clear to Daim that he is more comfortable with Muhyiddin than Najib. He can work better with Muhyiddin, said Abdullah Badawi. Muhyiddin’s house, which used to be deserted, is today packed with Umno people who already detect that this is the man who is going to replace Najib as the Deputy Prime Minister and they want it known that they are amongst the first to rally behind him even before he gets the job. Such is the Umno culture where only the winners are important and losers are to be shunned like the plague.

The Razak Baginda murder trial will not augur well for Najib. Evidence that Najib issued a letter asking the Immigration Department to issue the murdered girl a visa is in the possession of those who want to send Najib into early retirement. Evidence that Najib, Razak and the murdered girl made an overseas trip together is also in these same hands. This evidence can of course be quashed if Najib makes a voluntary exit. Then again, if he resists, this evidence can be adduced in court and Najib may risk more than just his job as Deputy Prime Minister.

One thing that would be most difficult to explain is the meeting the Chief Inspector and Razak Baginda, now both facing murder charges, had in Najib’s office where the former admitted he had killed six people before this. In spite of this confession he was still engaged to assist Razak Baginda in solving his problem with the Mongolian girl. This, plus the overseas trip they made together and Najib’s letter to the Immigration Department point to a conspiracy at the highest level and though it may not be enough to indict Najib for murder would certainly be enough to convince the country he should no longer remain as Deputy Prime Minister. If Abdullah Badawi was to remove Najib just because he prefers Muhyiddin, this would trigger a serious crisis in Umno. But to remove Najib based on this evidence, Abdullah Badawi would be seen as doing the right thing.

Najib has to now make his move. He no longer has any choice in the matter. He thought earlier he did not need to do anything other than pretend to be behind the Prime Minister. The change of judge and date of the Razak Baginda murder trial is most unsettling and demonstrates that there is more than meets the eye. This is not a mere court administration issue. There are powerful hands at play behind the scenes setting Najib up for a fall. If Najib’s name pops up during the trial or he or his wife are subpoenaed to testify in the trial that would have adverse repercussions on him and threaten his position. All they need to do is to launch a ‘2 September 1998’ on Najib and he would become history like what happened to Anwar Ibrahim almost a decade before this.

To ensure that his defences are strengthened, Najib is now bringing scores of Umno division heads for overseas trips, at the cost of the taxpayers of course. He cannot pay off these division heads personally from his pocket though he certainly can afford to do so or else he would be cited for money politics and could be suspended or sacked from the party. So he is taking them on these overseas trips as members of his entourage at government expense.

Mahathir does not think Najib will make it. You can see, of late, Mahathir has slowed down his attacks on Abdullah Badawi, supposedly because he is not well and the doctors have asked him to take it easy lest he push his heart too far. It is not his heart that is slowing him down. It is the realisation that it is not Abdullah Badawi who will soon be leaving the scene but most likely Najib. But Najib is not taking all this lying down. He will fight tooth and nail to hold on to his position. Well, he can try. Anwar Ibrahim tried as well. The reality of Malaysian politics is what the Prime Minister wants the Prime Minister gets.

To be continued.

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