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Friday, January 6, 2017

Economist: If coffers run dry, allies will abandon Najib

The Economist did not mince words in its analysis of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his prospects with regard to the speculated snap polls in Malaysia.
Even its introduction paragraph was laced with acerbic sarcasm.
"A round of applause, ladies and gentlemen.
"Any typical leader of a typical democracy, when found with nearly US$700 million of ill-explained money from an unnamed foreign donor in his accounts, would experience a swift and fatal fall. Yet, nearly two years after news first broke that Najib's bank balance had been thus plumped up, his high-wire act continues," it stated.
The publication also noted that far from being forced to step down, the prime minister was arguably at the top of his game, commanding unwavering support in Umno and remains untouched despite several countries investigating the alleged financial improprieties in 1MDB.
"Staying in power helps stave off any risk he might face of international prosecution," it added.
Based on this, The Economist proceeded to unravel the factors that have allowed the prime minister to consolidate his power amid such circumstances, and in the process, took a swipe at his wife Rosmah Mansor's alleged fondness for expensive handbags.
"Patronage is a big part of it. Though his wife has a lusty appetite for Hermes Birkin bags, and the wedding of his daughter to a nephew of the Kazakhstani president was an occasion of such bling that the Malaysian media were discouraged from publishing photographs, Najib may be essentially right when he says the cash in his accounts was not for personal gain.
"An Umno leader needs money to buy loyalty from powerful politicians. It is also handy for spreading largesse among ordinary Malays - including helping devout Muslims make the Haj," it said.
Accusing Najib of employing threats as well, the article cited former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's imprisonment and the arrest of Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah.
"Newspapers and bloggers have been hounded. The number of activists and politicians charged with sedition has shot up. As for 1MDB, the only conviction in Malaysia related to it has been of a whistle-blowing legislator who highlighted alleged wrongdoing by the fund's managers," it added.
A friend in Donald Trump
The Economist also claimed that Donald Trump winning the US presidential elections could have bolstered Najib's confidence, making him feel that the chief risks from 1MDB were behind him.
"Bear in mind that among the most assiduous investigations to date have been those by America's Department of Justice...
"Yet the next American president, Donald Trump, speaks admiringly of Najib, a golfing buddy. It might be hard for the department to pursue a full-throttle investigation if Trump expressed displeasure," it added.
As for the general election, the article claimed Najib is banking on the opposition not getting its act together, but warned that there is ample scope for surprises.
"A growing number of opposition sympathisers say a heavyweight with political experience is needed to take on Umno. The obvious candidate is Muhyiddin Yassin, a former Umno deputy prime minister who fell out with Najib over 1MDB.
"Last year, he and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the country for 22 years, founded an ethnic-Malay party opposed to Najib. The opposition would need to swallow a lot of pride and some principles to ask Muhyiddin to be its leader. But he shares some of its reformist agenda, and it would transform the opposition’s chances of victory," it added.
The article also argued that Najib is not only contesting against the opposition, but the economy as well.

"Since April, the currency has fallen by nearly a quarter, reflecting the weak price of oil, a crucial export, and concern about cronyism under Najib (Malaysia ranks second, after Russia, in The Economist's crony-capitalism index).
"China's help in bailing out 1MDB may have bought Najib time, but budgets are strapped as economic growth starts to slow.
"If he can't keep the money flowing, his seemingly loyal allies would abandon him in a jiffy. So if anything keeps the prime minister awake at night, it may well be a future without friends," it added.- Mkini

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