False Hope for the Alliance of Hope?


Partyforumseasia: 

With the wild rumors swirling about an early date for the next general election in Malaysia, everybody wonders about the chances of the opposition to win in its third attempt. 2008 and 2013 saw important advances against the ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional or BN) coalition, but the gerrymandered election system, expensive gifts to certain voter groups, clever fear mongering, and insufficient co-ordination among the opposition parties kept UMNO and BN comfortably in power.

Prime minister Najib Razak, who is also president of UMNO, quite shrewdly managed to dismantle the People’s Pact (Pakatan Rakyat or PR) by eliminating its leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, probably the only politician who could unite the opposition. The seventy-year-old leading figure of the People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat), is still in jail with a controversial conviction for sodomy and banned from politics for five years. For the ruling BN coalition, the end of the Pakatan Rakyat in 2015 was a dream come true.

PM Najib, in the meantime, had other dangerous problems. The 1MDB financial scandal with billions disappeared from this state fund and hundreds of millions discovered in the prime minister’s private accounts would have led to his resignation or unseating in most other political systems. Not so in Malaysia. With remarkable cold blood and chutzpah, Najib has not only survived the storm so far but cemented his leadership in party and coalition as well.

But the opposition is reorganizing itself as well. And 91-year-old veteran politician and former long-term prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is playing an interesting role in this new game. He has left UMNO and started a new party, the United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia or PPBM) and just joined the new opposition coalition, the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan).
This new coalition unites now four opposition parties, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Chinese-dominated party with a socialist approach, the National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara), a splinter from Islamist PAS, and Mahathir’s PPBM as newest member since 20 March. The PH coalition is planning to optimize its forces by campaigning with a common logo and without competing against each other in any constituency.

With PAS keeping a hostile distance toward Pakatan Harapan because of the “anti-Malay” DAP and the “renegade” Amanah, the opposition has lost a former ally with a stable number of seats in the national parliament. The BN coalition of UMNO and twelve component parties holds 132 of the 222 seats. To oust BN and PM Najib, the opposition would need at least 112 seats. This looks like a tall order at the moment, up from 75 in the sitting parliament.

The next general election is formally only due by August 2018, but in the British tradition, the prime minister can call it earlier at his discretion and sense of opportunity. Najib is obviously playing the guessing game for all, has started the BN campaign machinery, and, most importantly, has survived the financial scandal so far with gaining more strength and power in his own party and coalition. His power to fire any internal critic and any civil servant or legal office bearer, and his grip on the government’s and the party’s cash flows, make him look more or less unbeatable. Large parts of the population, especially his Malay vote banks, seem to be relatively unfazed by the financial scandal, and the new proximity with PAS and its Islamist hudud (Muslim criminal punishments) project makes it even more difficult for the opposition.

But no election victory is ever guaranteed. With all the instruments in his hand, from the Election Commission to the money supply and distribution, the prime minister may still be feel too sure about winning. If the Pakatan Harapan coalition manages to unite and avoid all three cornered fights, and, of course, find the appropriate central message to the voters, nothing can be excluded.

Malaysia: Mahathir’s or Najib’s War of Attrition?


King

Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, King of Malaysia

Partyforumseasia: So far, Prime Minister Najib Razak has managed to weather the months of heavy political head winds with remarkable cold blood. His former mentor turned nemesis, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, so far, has been the driving force in a sort of “Oust-Najib-Movement” and recently brought together a group of Najib enemies described in the Malaysian media as “strange bedfellows”, especially because Mahathir’s earlier victim, Anwar Ibrahim, has joined from behind bars. He has been imprisoned under Mahathir and is now serving a five year term under Najib, again for alleged sodomy and again perceived as politically motivated.

Last Monday, 7th March, in a speech at the opening of parliament, Malaysia’s 88-year-old King, Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, “told Malaysian legislators that they should stop playing politics of narrow interests, as this has gone on for so long that it has become stressful for the people and the government.” (Asia One).  Given the circumstances of the entrenched war between the PM and his domestic foes, the king’s admonition sounds rather in support of Najib and very probably won’t end the war of attrition by Mahathir and partners including the opposition. But Mahathir has a credibility problem himself. Many Najsee him guilty of starting the level of money politics he is accusing Najib of, only that Najib with the hundreds of millions in his private accounts has pushed it to unprecedented levels and triggered international suspicion.

Money politics under Najib: If the king may not wield much political influence, there are other strong arguments for the Prime Minister’s supporters in the UMNO party hierarchy to keep the number of defectors relatively small. “He didn’t invent the system but Najib has perfected the art of sleaze”, writes the AsiaSentinel on 2 March (Link), and continues with very concrete figures:

“Once a month, each of the 191 loyal district chiefs that make up the hierarchy of the United Malays National Organization receives RM50,000 for “expenses.” It doesn’t come from Malaysia’s fiscal budget. It comes from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal accounts at Ambank in KL. Multiplied out, that totals RM114.6 million annually (US$27.498 million). It is a system that has sustained party loyalty through several premiers for 35 years, if Najib is to be believed, and it points to the deep, long-running corruption of the entire Malaysian political system. It is just part of what keeps Najib in power against the combined investigations of five countries on allegations of money laundering, fraud and bribery.”

The Wall Street Journal is also in the forefront of questioning PM Najib’s personal finances by publishing beginning of March new estimations that he has more than a billion US$ in his personal accounts and that much of it originates from the mismanaged and debt-ridden 1MDB investment fund whose board of advisers happens to be chaired by Mr. Najib.

In regional comparison money politics and patronage are common and sophisticated. Members of parliament as well as local office bearers of political parties are expected to “help” their voters, from waving parking tickets to funding businesses. But it seems that relatively rich Malaysia has reached levels which a majority of voters is no longer prepared to condone. Najib seems to be in control so far, not least because the opposition is divided, but the scandals may change the public mood so much against UMNO that Najib will be more of a liability than until today.
Strategy-wise, though, Najib follows the (immoral) textbook prescriptions: Business as usual, deny everything until you can’t deny it any more and in thin slices, attack the attackers, and eliminate your internal enemies.

Political Hunting Season in Malaysia


Mukhriz

Former Chief Minister – since yesterday 3 February

Partyforumseasia: Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, has finally resigned from his post as chief minister of the federal state of Kedah after only 30 months. As the rumors go he was asked three times in a week to sign a prepared resignation letter. Claiming that he was forced out because of his (and his father’s) criticism of prime minister Najib Razak and the series of financial scandals he is alleged to be involved in, Mr. Mukhriz did not hesitate to counterattack:
“Sorry to say that as long as Najib is still there, Umno is at its weakest point right now. Scandal after scandal, I think we can’t take it all, it is too much for us. It is really traumatising to all of us. We can’t hold our heads high. Now I will have more opportunity to fight on and speak out for the people because this will not shut me up,” he is quoted as saying by Singapore’s Straits Times (Link).

Prime Minister  Najib’s control of their common party UMNO looks more than total at the moment, but with Swiss and Singaporean banks being involved in the 1MDB scandal the shells are landing ever closer. And never underestimate estranged and sidelined party members. The roles of hunted and hunters can change:
In the first German children’s book, first published in 1845, the hare steals the hunter’s rifle and starts to hunt the hunter…
jäger 1

 

 

A New Broom Sweeps Clean – PM Najib Cleared of Corruption by New Attorney General


Najib 3

PM Najib still smiling

Partyforumseasia: Under much pressure because of a personal donation of nearly 700 million USD from an undisclosed Middle Eastern source in his private account, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia has shown remarkable cold blood. Knowing that he dominates his party UMNO practically unchallenged by lack of possible successors, he sacked a critical deputy president and the Attorney General who was daring enough to look deeper into the donation case. The replacement, Apandi Ali, closed the case on 26 January and stated that there was no evidence of corruption on the side of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, two oversight panels, the Operations Review Panel and a Special Panel, have asked the AG to explain how he came to this conclusion. The move seems to signal that the Prime Minister’s narrative is so unusual that Malaysia’s public and voters are not yet ready to close the case as readily as the new Attorney General.
In terms of his communication policy PM Najib is in line with political strategy textbooks, namely admit only what you cannot deny and admit only in thin slices. In the meantime, the source of the donation has been revealed as the Saudi royal family. According to a Reuters-based article on Channelnewsasia (Link), Najib has paid back to the donors a sum of 620 million USD. While there are no explanations about the rest of the money, the Saudi side is not confirming nor denying the transaction.”Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, during a visit to Malaysia late October 2015, did not deny when asked whether his government donated money to Najib. “Saudi and Malaysia are close allies and partners we work closely together on regional issues as well as international issues that affect Islamic world,” he said. “We coordinate our political position with regards to events in the Middle East and other places. This is something we do.”

Meanwhile, also from the political strategy textbook, Najib attacks his harshest critic and pre-predecessor Mahathir Mohamad by obviously allowing an internal party initiative  for the sacking of the latter’s son Mukhriz Mahathir from his post as chief minister of the federal state of Kedah.

This strategy may work, but the fight is not over. The Latin saying “audacter calumniare, semper aliquid haeret” means “slander boldly, something always sticks”, but nota bene: The Saudi donation saga is not just slander but a web of facts and fiction where nobody can be sure that more and more will come to light. The UMNO leadership may be backing Najib as long as he controls the financial snowball system, but the dangers for the tainted reputation of the party are lingering for too long already.
First rumors are here that Najib is preparing for a face-saving exit with guarantees of immunity. See The Diplomat on 22 January: “Will Malaysia’s Najib Finally Quit? Speculation is mounting that the embattled premier may seek a face-saving exit.” (Link)

Malaysia: “Fortress” UMNO threatened by Own Supporters?


Partyforumseasia: As the saying goes, with certain friends you don’t need enemies. One possibly dangerous ally of Malaysia’s ruling party UMNO is the support group Perkasa, founded in 2008. It is supposed to have a membership of over 400.000, but probably a majority among them are also UMNO members. Perkasa has been established to defend the leading role of the country’s Malay population and their special rights, enshrined in Article 153 of the constitution. Privileges for the Malays and other indigenous groups (called together “Bumiputera” or sons of the soil) go back to colonial times. The British had imported Chinese and Indian labor in big numbers, but later the decisive division became more economic and social with predominantly rural Malays and more affluent city dwellers from the immigrant minorities. Unfortunately, the imbalance is persisting until today despite all quotas and support programs of successive UMNO-led governments.
Najib Nov.   The big strategic challenge for Prime Minister Najib is the necessity to reform certain outdated provisions like the sedition act and others to win over more votes from the minorities on one hand, and at the same time convince the Malay clientele that he will not touch their privileges. After winning the last election with only 48% of the popular vote with the help of a lopsided election law, Najib faces  challenges now from both sides. And on top of that his pre-predecessor Mahathir, who has already toppled his own direct successor, is increasingly critical vis-a-vis Najib. Dr. M
In this difficult situation Perkasa is not exactly a helpful support group but pours constantly oil in the fire. Their initiatives against perceived and alleged Chinese, Indian, or Christian threats against the Malay and Muslim majority increase all the latent tensions. The minorities are frightened of Muslim criminal law (hudud) for all, hairsplitting controversies about who may use the word Allah and the distribution of bibles in Malay as well as many other gross exaggerations coming from Perkasa.
Strategy-wise the organization threatens to be much more of a liability than a support group and undermines the Prime Minister’s efforts to reduce the tensions and deep divisions after the 2013 election. Asking him now before the UMNO convention to drop most of the so-called “liberal” reforms amounts to stabbing him in the back. And Perkasa adviser Mahathir should carefully weigh the doses of vitriol he pours on Najib.

UMNO’s Party Elections- Another Rising Son?


Mukhriz 2Partyforumseasia: Fierce competition inside a political party is the best time for observers and researchers to get a better picture of what is going on inside. The preparations for the internal elections which should have taken place already in 2012 but were postponed because of the May 2013 general election reveal a few things about UMNO after the extremely narrow victory which keeps it in power.
One interesting detail is that six candidates compete for three vice-presidential posts whereas PM Najib Razak und his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin remain unchallenged.
Among the six vice-presidential hopefuls one is more interesting than most of the others because he happens to be the son of former party president and long serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. This son, Mukhriz Mahathir, newly appointed chief minister of the federal state of Kedah immediately after the May election, is on the way up and would be a possible successor of PM Najib if elected as vice-president.

His father, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, like many other elder statesmen, continues to comment on everything political in the country, but still wields more real influence than most of his peers. His direct support for his rising son and his vice-presidential ambitions may help a lot in this special area of political culture. (In most European countries this open support would be counterproductive).
Mukhriz 1

Source: Straits Times (Singapore) today, 26-9-2013.

But there is a nice irony involved which seems to go unnoticed by father Mahathir when he says:
“Eventually people get bored of these outdated leaders who refuse to accept the reality.”
A European proverb is saying that you should not throw stones if you sit in a glass house…

Another interesting detail is the contest for chairing the women’s wing. Incumbent Shahrizat, who was involved in a massive corruption scandal under the headline “Cowgate” seems to enjoy endorsement for another term by PM Najib. But her challenger, senator Mazlah Maznan has good chances to replace Shahrizat exactly because of Cowgate.
UMNO is the biggest Malaysian party with 3.4 million members and the results of next month’s convention promise to be interesting!