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.

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’s UMNO Convention: What Keeps Najib In Power?


Partyforumseasia:One important advantage of democracy  over all other systems is the possibility to exchange an unsuccessful  government against a new team and new hope for the voters. Sometimes it happens after internal power struggles like the recent transfer from Abbot to Turnbull in Australia, sometimes it is growing unhappiness among the voters and defeat in elections. With a more open and less gerrymandered electoral system PM Najib would have lost his job already in 2013. But even under

Determined to prevail

Determined to prevail

unprecedented pressure from voters, many of whom have lost trust in him, and internal opposition in his own party, Najib seems unassailable. In this week’s ongoing party convention with 2,654 delegates from 191 divisions he shrugs off all the attacks and calmly pretends to be in fighting spirit. An admirable level of self-confidence.
His long career as a politician has been a jump-start but accompanied by a series of scandals. At the age of 23 he took over the parliamentary seat of his father, a prime minister like an uncle, and moved into the cabinet as deputy minister only two years later. Prime Minister since 2009, his former mentor and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad has now turned into his most prominent critic. Mahathir’s constant call for him to step down seems unsuccessful by now, and the UMNO-internal challenge looks neutralized. As incredible as it sounds for Malaysians and outsiders, the scandalous mismanagement of 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund with billions of debt, and the more than dubious campaign “donation” of 700 million US$ from undisclosed Middle Eastern sources into Najib’s private account (!), seem to be swallowed by most leaders of the 3.4 million strong government party. His enemies never imagined that he got get away with that.

There are four main reasons for the strong position of Najib:

1. There is no competitor who could replace him at short notice. All party comrades who speak up are being sacked, like former deputy prime minister and deputy party president Muhyiddin Yassin,  and replaced by yes-men. Najib even declares that it is a Muslim religious duty to support the leader.

2. With the  imprisonment and effective elimination of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the ambivalent stand of Islamist opposition party PAS, the threat by a strong opposition coalition has more or less vanished.

3.  Starting from Mahathir’s time, the powers of party president and prime minister have been strengthened continuously. On 3 December, Malaysia’s parliament has approved the National Security Council Bill which gives the prime minister quasi unlimited discretion to detain people and declare a state of emergency. The criticism of Mahathir sounds somewhat hollow, though, because he used the former internal security act against his challengers during his term rather extensively.Najib 1

4. The main reason, however, is the pervasiveness of money politics. Widely the norm in Southeast Asia, it has been developed and fine-tuned in Malaysia, ironically again since Mahathir’s premiership. Najib, born with the famous silver spoon in his mouth, has made full use of the UMNO patronage system. As Partyforumseasia has argued earlier, UMNO cannot afford to lose an election because the whole enormous scheme would collapse and leave hundreds of thousands of party officials and supporters in the cold. And Najib cannot afford to step down because more dirty linen suspected by critical Malaysians might surface and destroy party and patronage.
The system, described as “the patronage networks that flow downward through UMNO, and that ensure the loyalty of party cadres” (Council on Foreign Relations, Link here) is a tool for which many parties worldwide may envy UMNO. But its refinancing comes from state funds and corrupt government-business links at the expense of tax payers.
As aptly as ruthlessly playing racist and religious cards, party and prime minister seem to get away with this cancerous system among the profiteers and voters. And far from being as scandalous as it sounds for most observers, the 700 million “donation” might even strengthen Najib’s position by boosting his financial discretion even more. As the saying in the Philippines goes, the Golden Rule simply means that he who has the gold will rule…

He won't go

He won’t go

John Stewart Mill in his Considerations on Representative Government published in 1861 had warned already against money politics: “Of what avail is the most broadly popular representative system if the electors do not care to choose the best member of Parliament, but choose him who will spend most money to be elected?”

 

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.

Malaysia: A Good Question Concerning the Pakatan Rakyat Opposition Coalition


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership of UMNO has been strenghthened and confirmed by the recent internal party polls. Najib 6.12.13For the time being there are no visible challengers around and Najib feels more than confident in promising the 3000 party leaders attending the annual meeting a continuation of the “Malays First Policy”. This is seen as race based by the roughly 40% Non-Malay Malaysians and has contributed to a surge in the popular vote for the opposition in the general election in May.
In terms of election strategy this makes sense, though, since UMNO’s main support comes from carefully gerrymandered rural constituencies with huge Malay majorities. As long as the first-past-the-post electoral system remains UMNO can focus on these vote banks while the opposition coalition might win the urban votes but fail to win a majority in parliament.

An interesting question has been raised by Murray Hunter in the New Mandala: Whether Pakatan Rakyat deserves to be in government!!!!
See (link here) New Mandala

PRakyat Whether a party or coalition really deserves to be in government is a difficult question. But there are indeed some big question marks concerning the cohesion and stability of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Some see the three coalition partners as somewhat strange bed fellows, united only in their struggle against the ruling Barisan Nasional.