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Monday, August 22, 2011

Can Najib stave off a bullish Muhyiddin

Sulaiman Kamal | 4:07 PM | | | Best Blogger Tips

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With UMNO’s general assembly fast approaching at the end of this year, pundits have been buzzing with speculations on the possible power struggle between Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin.
58 year-old Najib, son of former Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, entered the political scene like a rocket shooting for the stars. Armed with an education from the University of Nottingham and experience in trade, Najib became the youngest deputy minister in the country when he was appointed Deputy Minister of Energy, Telecommunications, and Post at the age of 25. At 29 he became Menteri Besar of Pahang, also the youngest in the country.

There is little doubt that Najib implemented policies in his career that contributed to the development of the country. As Education Minister, he increased collaboration with foreign universities, allowing them to set up degree-conferring schools in the country, hence raising the standard of higher education in Malaysia. As Minister of Defense he implemented the Malaysian National Service, which mirrors the National Service training in other countries like Singapore. However, the program, while set up with the best intentions, has encountered many welfare issues, including the deaths of several youths while in training.
His early stardom and success blazed a cold trail since then, and we find Najib’s early promise all but faded. Since his somewhat dramatic coup to takeover the premiership from his predecessor Abdullah Badawi, Najib has failed spectacularly at leading his administration and maintaining support from his countrymen.
Despite his efforts to portray himself as a moderate leader, his three-year tenure has been plagued by scandals, corruption and most devastatingly the government’s appalling response to and handling of the recent Bersih 2.0 rally. This slew of events has effectively driven away respect and trust in his administration from Malaysians over the years.
Just before the official investigation into the Scorpene case in September, Najib finds himself surrounded by ripe controversy yet again. This time the limelight is on wife Rosmah Mansor, who was also implicated in the murder of Altantuya in 2006. The alleged RM 24.4 million ring she purchased from American company Jacob & Co has enraged the citizens, perhaps to the boiling point. As the poor go hungry, the FLOM’s extravagant ways and Najib’s meek obedience towards her has left much to be desired of our country’s leader. Add on top of that a vicious rumour of Kazakhstan gangster in-laws travelling down the grapevine, and unsurprisingly the country’s faith in Najib is now all but lost.
Mr Muhyiddin - does he have what it takes?
Enter Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Part of Najib’s original cabinet when he took over Badawi in April 2009, Muhyiddin has since made several controversial decisions that have been construed as deliberate challenges to Najib’s policies and in effect, leadership.
The most contentious of all would be Muhyiddin’s infamous declaration that he was “Malay first” rather than “Malaysian first”, in direct contradiction to Najib’s 1Malaysia platform. Najib, instead of standing up for his policy, defended Muhyiddin’s statement despite protestations from ministers and citizens alike. At the Malaysian Student Leaders Summit, Najib further equivocated on this issue, saying, “1Malaysia is our guiding philosophy. It does not matter what you say, just as long as you follow.”
Apart from a perffunctory commitment to Najib’s “1Malaysia”, Muhyiddin is also well known for his continuous and open support for Utusan Malaysia, which has recently called for a “1Melayu, 1 Bumi” movement.
Leadership qualities were apparent in Muhyiddin since the beginnings of his career. The Johor born graduated from Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur before joining the Johor state public service as Assistant Secretary of Training and Scholarship. In 1986, he became Menteri Besar of Johor, and in his ten years made significant improvements to the state. The father of four, however, encountered a bumpier road within UMNO, where he contested and lost several positions including the Supreme Council seat and the position of Vice-President.
But where he failed, Muhyiddin tried and tried again, and he eventually ascended the UMNO ladder steadily from vice president to Deputy President in 2009 when Najib replaced Badawi. His diligence in attaining his goals despite the less than perfect success rate perhaps reveals a stronger character and a fighting spirit very obviously lacking in our current Prime Minister.
Can UMNO afford another president who cannot command the respect of the non-Malays
In keeping with his character, Muhyddin is also well known for challenging and eventually falling out with his own party’s leaders. Whether or not this shows an inability to follow and a nasty need for control, or merely the strength to stand up for his own ideals is as yet unknown.
Further discord between Najib and Muhyiddin includes Muhyiddin’s decision to discontinue the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, which Kita President and former UMNO law minister Zaid Ibrahim alleged as against Najib’s ideals. Moreover, according to some news reports, Muhyiddin also openly refuted Najib’s plan to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on polls reforms, following Bersih 2.0.
Evidently, Najib’s weak handling of his deputy has served to further tarnish his leadership in the eyes of many, and now, as many news outlets have highlighted, he could be getting a taste of his own medicine, as analysts reportedly predict the termination of his leadership by 2012.
However, as Muhyiddin aligns himself with papers such as Utusan and makes abundantly clear that he is “Malay First”, his extremist image at the forefront of UMNO may cost the party the loss of support from even more non-Malays, which clearly after Bersih 2.0 is already wafer thin.
With Muhyiddin as acting leader, the party’s future would be uncertain at best, especially during a time of the people’s political awakening for their right to a non-apartheid establishment. As a country demanding fair and equal non-racial politics, Muhyiddin’s leadership in UMNO would either destroy the hopes and future of the party, or very likely, country.
Despite these concerns, realistically, with no other frontrunner for the party’s leadership position and alleged support from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Muhyddin Yassin could well wrench both title and power from our current premier without so much as a “Tak boleh-lah!”.

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