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Friday, October 7, 2011

Finally, Mahathir vs Najib

Sulaiman Kamal | 1:08 AM | | Best Blogger Tips

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Mahathir Mohamad is not a man to sit quietly in the wings when something pricks his interest. Upon retiring in 2003, Mahathir did remain in the shadows, quietly stocking his personal book library and even opening a bakery in Langkawi. But it wasn't long before he jumped in again and as usual, he chose the deep end of the pool.
His luckless opponent was none other than Abdullah Badawi, his chosen successor. But cordial though their relationship had been, when Badawi began dismantling several of Mahathir's high profile projects, the older man didn't like it and made it known that he wasn't happy anymore. But dismantling the projects was not enough for the Abdullah, who was then keen to polish his reformist badge. Badawi did the unthinkable, he even released Mahathir's arch enemy, Anwar Ibrahim, whom Mahathir had taken great pains to put in jail. Then the final icing on the cake, Badawi charged Mahathir’s long time friend, Eric Chia, for criminal breach of trust.

All these actions hurt Mahathir, but adding salt to the wound were the loud cheers that greeted Badawi's moves. Not used to playing second fiddle, Mahathir could not stay silent and began a barrage of statements, aimed to undermine and eventually topple his chosen successor turned foe. It took a few years and a disastrous general election outing in 2008 to finally slam the door on Badawi, but that was due in large part to his having led the BN to a record lanslide win in 2004.
Even so, in April 2009, Abdullah was replaced by Najib Razak, another of Mahathir's anointed successors. Once again, Maharthir slid into the background, surfacing now and then like a shark preying on its victim at events such as the launching of Perkasa and other fiery Malay rights groups. But by and large, he keep a fairly discreet silence, allowing Najib to be prime minister even though there has been a lot of talk that Najib feared making any moves that might displeases the older man.
Mahathir back in the saddle?
But those days seem to be a thing of the past. Mahathir is now in the news almost every other day. Whenever, an issue crops up, such as the Pakatan Rakyat's 2012 Budget launched on Tuesday, reporters rushed to get his views. In recent months, Mahathir has also come out with stern warnings to Najib Razak to delay snap elections or else Umno might "lose big". It is a warning that Najib Razak seems to have turned a deaf ear on, and this has no doubt further frustrated the former premier.
"It's always easy to spend the money which is not under our control. We can do anything like promising to give 20 per cent oil royalty. Yes, we can make the promise as we are not the government. Make promises, so long you win the elections," Mahathir told reporters on Tuesday.
And over the weekend, this what Mahathir had to say. "If the general election is held now, Umno may lose big because the support and spirit has faded," Bernama reported Mahathir as saying on Sunday.
The ex-premier certainly has good reason to issue the warning to Najib for the current premier is saddled with scandals that are an embarassment to Malaysia. Najib is due to unveil the BN's Budget 2012 on Friday but the chances of its eclipsing the Pakatan's Prosperity For All is very slim, although one can expect the government-controlled mainstream to wax lyrical over the smallest points.
Losing the people's trust
But Mahathir may be right. It is certainly not the time for Najib to hold general elections. The public mood iis just not with him. Change is what Malaysians wanted but this he did not deliver. Instead they had to put up with what Mahathir wanted or thought was best because Najib was too weak to resist him.
So, now for Najib to reclaim the spotlight and strike out on his own might be a little too late. Public sentiment has turned against him, the people blame him. Uppermost in their minds are his scandals and ndeed, never in the history of Malaysia, has there been a prime minister burdened with so much scandal as Najib Razak. And for this, he has no one to blame except himself.
The continuing saga of the Altantuya-Scorpene case is making international observers shake their heads in disbelief. Yet in Malaysia, his Umno and Cabinet colleagues pretend they do not know anything about it, even though they keep up to date with all the latest details. The corruption scandal involving kickbacks for the purchase of two Scorpene submarines is now awaiting the appointment of a French investigative judge.
The Altantuya murder case is still awaiting closure, as the presiding judge who sentenced two of Najib's bodyguards to hang for her death has yet to write his judgement; leaving many to wonder - is this the biggest murder cover-up in Malaysian history involving the judiciary and government apparatus?
Then there is the whole issue of the RM24 million diamond ring, attaching itself to his wife Rosmah Mansor although it may not be onto her finger. Along with stories of luxurious shopping sprees, overseas trips with large entourages on public money, Rosmah Mansur is as much a liability to Malaysia’s coffers as she is to Najib’s political image.
Then there is the ongoing Sodomy II trial, with the famous ‘subpoena us if you want to see us in court’ drama being played out by both Najib and Rosmah. It defies logic that the country's first couple can be allergic to making a court appearance to clear themselves from the charge of plotting the down-fall of political arch rival Anwar Ibrahim. The judge is due to decide on Thursday Najib's written excuse that he knows nothing of relevance to the Sodomy II trial; a similar excuse that Rosmah has also offered.
Gloves are off, Mahathir sounds a warning to Najib
Mahathir must surely be fuming. A slumping economy, rising costs of living and an imminent implosion in Umno must surely be weighing heavily on his mind but apparently not at all on Najib's radar. Instead, Najib appears to be irresponsibly drifting from scrape to scrape.
And the latest one that has astounded the nation, the 58-year-old is now hell-bent on being the ‘coolest’ prime minister Malaysia has ever had. So easy it is for him, feeling nothing about spending several dozen more millions of taxpayer's money on fake public relations.
No wonder, Mahathir is of the opinion that if snap elections are called this year, BN and ultimately Umno will lose its grip on the government. So, the gloves are off again. Mahathir Mohamad is now coming out much like he did with Abdullah Badawi - to ensure that Najib Razak is put back into his bottle, like the proverbial bad genie, and if need be, even replaced before the next general elections.
Najib fights back
Perhaps this is also why Najib is not listening. His is continuing to pump out as many bullets as he can to garner enought support to win GE-13 with as big a majority as he possibly can. Yes, Najib has good reason to call for snap polls before the December Umno general assembly. He is a prime minister without a public mandate, succeeding Abdullah Badawi by virtue of his ascension to the Umno presidency in 2009. If Najib was to secure a people's mandate before the December Umno general assembly, then replacing him as the Umno president will be a tougher task.
There is also much speculation that the Umno supreme council wants him to detail a succession plan with a time line to hand over to Muhyiddin. Najib is not ecpected to complete 2012 as PM even if the BN manages to stave off the resurgent Pakatan in GE-13. Thus, getting his mandate from the people is again crucial if Najib is to have any bargaining power at all in the top echelons of Umno.
As for Mahathir, the talk at coffee-shops around the nation is that one, he is buying time till the party's election due to be held by October 2012, where Najib is expected to face a stiff challenge from his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin. Alternatively, Mahathir wants a succession plan to be knocked out when party delegates meet in the first week of December this year. To Mahathir, winning GE-13 is everyting. Better to lose an individual than to suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat led by his most hated enemy, Anwar Ibrahim.
This then is the Mahathir vs Najib tussle, and it is escalating by the day. The former seeks to remain in power via the perception of a people’s mandate while the latter seeks to keep a coalition in power by the sacrifice of one individual. Yet, ultimately the loser is never the combatants but rather the ones who are being fought over. And these are the people, who have been relegated to the sidelines to watch Umno's latest political wrestling match.

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