KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29 – He is 62 days away from becoming Malaysia’s sixth Prime Minister but Datuk Seri Najib Razak is already leaving his imprint on some important decisions in government.
More importantly, among the men and women in Umno, where the ability to scent a shift in power is part of the survival pack, there has been a discernible move towards him.
The most telling sign was when a delegation of Penang Umno leaders visited him at his office this week.
They came to brief him about rumblings in the state and warn him of the possibility of crossovers from Penang Umno to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the opposition party led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. They wanted him to intervene.
This request presented an awkward moment for Najib.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi remains the prime minister and party president. He is also the senior most Umno leader from Penang.
If there was a need for intervention from the top, the request should have been made to Abdullah, not his deputy.
But this is the reality. Abdullah stopped being a factor in Umno the day he announced he was not defending his president’s position. Sure, he still controls the levers of power but the consensus in the party and government is that he has taken his foot off the pedal.
Umno/Barisan Nasional politicians sense this and have been beating a path to Najib’s office or home to lobby for positions in government-linked companies, contracts or just brief him on current developments.
When the controversy over the A. Kugan’s death in police custody threatened to boil over and accusations were lobbed at two deputy ministers over their alleged roles in leading a mob into the hospital morgue, Senator T. Murugaih made his way to Najib’s home.
He showed the deputy prime minister photographs of the dead detainee.
By then, Abdullah had returned home from an official visit to Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai.
Even in government policies and appointments, Najib’s influence has been growing.
For instance, there has been some disquiet in government circles over the possibility of former Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim being appointed as the chairman of Tabung Haji.
The Malaysian Insider understands that several government officials made representations to Najib who passed on their concerns to Abdullah.
Abdullah had apparently told Shahidan that he would be given the plum position in Tabung Haji, following the latter’s ouster as the Perlis Menteri Besar after Election 2008.
Till today, Shahidan has not been appointed as chairman of Tabung Haji.
Sources told The Malaysian Insider that the deputy prime minister wants to ensure that people with the right credentials are placed in top positions in GLCs. They would not rule out changes at several GLCs after he becomes the prime minister.
Eyebrows were also certainly raised when Najib said that the government had not made a final decision on Air Asia’s plan to build a new low cost carrier terminal Labu.
This statement caught several ministers by surprise because the matter had been deliberated and decided by the Cabinet several weeks ago.
In fact, a letter of approval was sent to Sime Darby Berhad, the owner of the land on which the RM1.6 billion LCCT is supposed to be built.
Perhaps in deference of his soon to be acquired position as leader of the country, no one has corrected him, either in public or privately.
Tomorrow, Najib will hear representations by Air Asia’s Datuk Tony Fernandes and counter arguments by government officials before making a final decision on the new LCCT.
Sources told The Malaysian Insider that Najib was concerned over the fallout from the decision to approve the project and was also keen to understand how Air Asia was going to finance the RM1.6 billion airport and raise the RM700 million needed for supporting infrastructure, including road and rail connectivity.
“He wants to be fair to everyone and make sure that there is no drag on the government because of this,” said an informed source, noting that a possible solution could be for Air Asia to be allowed to build its own LCCT within the KLIA complex.
Still, many believe that Najib’s intervention in this issue could have been better scripted. They pointed out that if he had major reservations about the project, he should have made it clear during the Cabinet meeting when the idea was discussed and during several other discussions on the matter.
By reacting so late in the day, the impression created is that the administration is prone to changing its position when challenged by public opinion.
Najib’s supporters said that he is mindful that he is still the No. 2 in the party and is careful not to usurp the power or stature of Abdullah before the transition of power takes place. Abdullah’s supporters said that it is inevitable for party members to start looking beyond the prime minister.
In any case, Abdullah always wanted Najib to grow into the position, and they believe that he will be prepared to give his deputy even more room from now on.
The ‘bad’ old days of political patronage within UMNO is still alive, kicking and obviously entrenched despite the warning signs of its irrelevancy after March 2008 plus two debilitating by-election losses within 10 months.
The still-born bottom-up management style of AAB will no doubt be replaced with the tried and tested, but ‘still need more testing’ top-bottom BN administration which NTR appears to favor. His forthcoming takeover of the Perak UMNO chief position by 1st February ’09 is a clear signal on how things will get done after the UMNO GA in March ’09, provided he’s allowed to assume the premiership.
Civil society’s increasing political awareness, including those from the younger generation which potentially accounts for about 5-6 million newly eligible voters by the next GE in 2013, plus the apparent voter empowerment realised during the last GE will present a major shift in Malaysian real-politics.
The Web 2.0 Net fraternity with access to almost real-time alternative news and UGC (user generated content) information have spilled over to the grassroots, out-reaching to the general citizenry through modern technologies like SMS, MMS and Facebook. Some have in fact went further by creating ‘pressure groups’ to address specific issues of bad governance e.g. the abolishment of the ISA.
The recent KT by-election won by PAS of Pakatan Rakyat brought about a slew of MMQ analysis and it’s fair to surmise, the inherent local factor was the tipping ingredient. That said, PAS, in my opinion, knew its significance but chose to keep their real candidate AWE ‘hidden’ by floating other personalities and thereby ‘duped’ UMNO to show its hand. WAF was a plan that failed because UMNO failed to plan strategically i.e. listening to the grassroots (local folks) and I’m definitely not referring to just hearing out the local warlords whilst sitting cosily in Putrajaya either.
Added to this was the BRB (Barisan Rakyat Bloggers) contribution in engaging the so-called kingmakers in KT, the chinese community, which brought about two cogent outcome. One, UMNO was blindsided and decided to split their resources to counter the BRB initiative which in a sense ‘orphanised’ the malay voters. Two, the KT chinese applied their gamblers’ gambit of maintaining the status quo to avoid repercussions (TOL issue) later from the state BN-run administration while ensuring a malay swing towards PR.
Was NTR privy to the choice of WAF and did he have any say on the matter? We are made to believe that it was the best choice by consensus but it contradicts my ‘bird in hand‘ analogy. Therefore, can we assume that political pragmatism was not exercised and instead, worn out political patronage was practiced. Inversely, NTR played along with the gameplan since WAF’s eventual loss can thereafter be attributed to AAB, leaving NTR smelling like a rose because he did his best at KT to flog a lame horse.
Meanwhile, we have another predicament looming i.e. the seemingly ‘kluk-kleking’ status on the Labu LCCT. If the BN administration have given the earlier approval to Air Asia and Sime Darby to proceed with the project, why is NTR now intimating an opposite position? He’s after all the DPM and therefore must have been consulted when a cabinet decision was made.
Was his deference to AAB ala UMNO tradition so great and must be kept in earnest for the sake of UMNO solidarity that common sense gets thrown out the window? Or will NTR cancel the Labu project in order to seemingly acquiesce to public outcry, similar to the IJN about turn, thereby ensuring his safe passage to the premiership?
In other words, the entire ‘Sime Darby Chronicles’ were somehow elaborately concocted to detract public attention away from the real plan of making NTR look good for the the nation’s top job.
Whether NTR gets his ultimate prize or not should depend on all of us, the Malaysian voters. Not the wheeling and dealing within the UMNO corridors of power and certainly, not in the hands 2000 plus UMNO delegates.
And whether NTR likes it or not, we do not want a leader who has the propensity to shoot blanks in the dark.
Besides which, I’m also longing to hear these words being uttered in a high pitch scream – “Waaahhhttttt!!! I can’t be 1st Lady ahhh, daahhleenk?”
Update: 2200HR 30/01/09.
Well, well, whaddaya know. KLIA-East is off the table. Just like IJN. And NTR comes up smelling like a freshly plucked rose. I’m reproducing below the last three paragraphs of TMI’s news report –
“The DPM played the role of an honest broker. He did not take sides but wanted to make sure that national interest was served. This could only happen if the new LCCT was built in KLIA but Air Asia’s legitimate interests and concerns were addressed,” a government official told The Malaysian Insider.
It may have been a happy ending for all parties but this episode certainly raised some serious questions over decision-making in the government.
And begs the question on why MAHB and Air Asia could not be forced to the negotiating table earlier.
Here’s a photo of him looking smugly honest.
Suggested caption : Ehh! You want your ‘spinning’ cheque now ah? Aiyah, you can trust me lah, Bru.. errr.. bro. Ada banyak kerja lagi ni and don’t risau about Riong OK. My tie looks spiffy tak?