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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Najib’s 1st year: Least achievements, Chinese 'bashing' begins

Wong Choon Mei  

Prime Minister Najib Razak marked his first year in office by defending ultra Malay rights group Perkasa as not extreme, even as it went on a Chinese 'bashing' spree demanding apologies from two Chinese leaders and threatening to have them suspended or even sacked from the Barisan Nasional coalition.

Indeed, Perkasa’s daring in making such heated and public demands has sparked concerns that racial tensions were set to worsen in Malaysia.

Instead of pushing through landmark social and economic overhaul advised by experts, pundits say Najib is more likely to steer his multiracial country into yet another politically-engineered identity crisis in order to stay in power at his increasingly mutinous Umno party.

“Suddenly, we are faced with questions like Malay or Chinese or Indian or Kadazan-Dusun-Murut first and Malaysian second or vice versa. But a lot of the verbal bashing against the Chinese in particular has to do with the fact that Umno knows it has lost their support. They won't vote BN for a long while,” Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told Harakahdaily.

“The MCA is more divided than before and its credibility with the Chinese voters is even lower now under Chua Soi Lek than Ong Tee Keat. As for Gerakan, it is still comatose. So no wonder Umno dares to hit out because they know the Chinese won’t vote for them anymore, not after Najib’s fiasco in Perak.”

Still form over substance

Indeed, on the first anniversary of Najib’s tenure as Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, the mainstream press has been careful to launch an all-out assault aimed at hammering to the public that he is a leader to reckon with.

Opinion polls were published showing his popularity had soared to 68 percent from 44 percent a year ago. Even the most obscure of his policies were dusted out and painted as major successes.

Not forgotten were the usual corporate captains and prominent citizens, who were duly roped in to praise Najib's premiership. Even foreign dignitaries were even rounded up to ‘laud’ his performance and achievements of the past 12 months.

Yet the efforts only underscored the man's vanity and his distinct preference for form over substance, a quality that pundits also attribute to his wife Rosmah Mansor’s love for showy public relations.

“We have to take the ratings with a pinch of salt. A survey can be professionally conducted but the sample used can be deliberately chosen to elicit a certain response,” PKR strategic director Tian Chua told Harakahdaily.

“If Malaysians systematically go through month by month what actually took place in the past 12 months, they can see for themselves how very little Najib has achieved - much less than even Abdullah Badawi.”

Greatest loss of national credibility

Indeed, a retrospective look at the past year shows Malaysia lost the greatest amount of credibility under his leadership than any other premier, including former dictator Mahathir Mohamad.

A year ago, Najib started off on the wrong foot with the Perak power grab but his refusal to retreat has compounded his failures. His insistence on holding onto to the state government by forcing the judiciary to issue questionable rulings condemned by legal practitioners and academicians throughout the Commonwealth have dealt immeasurable damage to the country's reputation.

So too has his desperate ploy to jail his political arch rival Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up sodomy charges that again have been condemned by lawmakers far and wide, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Nonetheless in an interview with Al-Jazeera, the 57-year old Najib chose to insist there was nothing political in Anwar’s prosecution and that his government only wanted to ensure fair play for the complainant.

“It is in this sort of facetious replies that Najib creates even greater disbelief and distrust for himself and his government,” PAS vice president Salahuddin Ayub told Harakhdaily.

“It has been a year where almost every month, something negative happened and Malay’s image got tarnished. Even this month, by picking on Anwar again - this time for revealing that his public relations firm APCO may have Zionist links - has hurt Malaysia’s standing with the Muslim world and the OIC countries.”

A year of fiascoes

Apart from the unpopular Perak crisis - still a sore point with the people of the state -  the past year also saw another Najib plot go awry. Emboldened by the Perak coup d'etat and refusing to heed warnings of the political consequences, he tried to pull off a similar move in Selangor.

Speculation remains high that he – along with other top Selangor Umno leaders - had ordered the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to fabricate graft charges against Pakatan Rakyat leaders in the state. Their ruthlessness resulted in the tragic death of DAP political aide Teoh Beng Hock.

A record-high RM67 billion Budget aimed at reinvigorating the economy yielded little result but left the country with its highest-ever fiscal deficit of 7.4 percent of gross domestic product. Despite promises of prudence, few economists expect Najib to implement unpopular cost-saving measures to reduce the deficit in any significant way.

In fact, so little faith did investors – both foreign and local – have in his leadership that they pulled out US$35 billion or about a third of the country's total international reserves in 2009 – the highest outflow ever seen not just in Malaysia but throughout Southeast Asia.

Then at the start of 2010, Najib stepped into a new minefield by directly instigating religious tensions over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims. His tacit approval for Muslims to hold demonstrations led to a series of Molotov-cocktail and vandalism attacks against churches, a temple and a Catholic school.

Again, the incidents created massive negative international attention on Malaysia, with the U.S. and the World Council of Churches expressing concern.

The worst is yet to come

But Najib not only refused to take responsibility, he and his Umno party gave the green light for the formation of Perkasa – a right-wing group led by maverick politician Ibrahim Ali and whose patron is Najib’s mentor Mahathir Mohamad.

It is widely believed that Umno hopes to use Perkasa to rev up Malay sentiment against the other races, thereby consolidating its grip on power.

Already Perkasa has warned Najib against dismantling affirmative action policies that favor Malay groups. Whether the warning is real or contrived in collusion with Najib himself, pundits say it will limit his ability to introduce an effective New Economic Model - on which he had hoped to make the cornerstone of his administration.

“Perkasa is also considered as one of the biggest dangers to a peaceful and harmonious Malaysia. Ibrahim Ali and Mahathir will ruin the country,” Kota Baru MP Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah told Harakahdaily.

“Najib is not powerful enough to stop them. He doesn’t have the political will or the moral courage to intervene. He will just stand by and watch which way the wind blows. Politically, this may be the safest for him but for the country, it is the worst.”

(Wong Choon Mei is the Consultant Editor for Harakahdaily - English Edition)


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