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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anwar and Muhyiddin size up Najib's tumble

Anwar and Muhyiddin size up Najib's tumble

Two men who stand to gain with Prime Minister Najib Razak's impending fall from power had very different reactions to a survey confirming the Malaysian leader's loss of favour with the people.

One was Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who expressed concern the weak results might prompt Najib into scuttling electoral reforms so as to prolong the BN's stay in power. The other was Deputy prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who showed a glimpse of his ambition by firstly warning that the survey results could not be taken seriously, and yet in the next breath, announced that he was now personally overseeing the rise in prices and would do all he could to stop the inflation.

Rising costs of living due to a recent slew of susbidy cuts on consumer essentials plus Najib's harsh and violent crackdown on the Bersih 2.0 campaign for free and fair elections were cited by survey respondents as being the chief factors for marking him down.

According to Anwar Ibrahim, the steep fall in Najib's popularity was also an unmistakable sign that the BN leadership could no longer remain in denial and continue to adopt the strategies of the "1950s" in the current age, where new politics had already swept most of the modern world including die-hard despotic regimes in the Middle East.

"It’s important that we send a clear message that you can’t continue to dictate the affairs of this state as if we are in the 1950s. Things have changed. Libya has changed, even Syria. Why must Malaysia be considered an exception?” Anwar told reporters at the Hari Raya celebration held by Selangor Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim.

“Regardless of the support, it is incumbent, it is imperative of any responsible leader in the country, to ensure elections are fair and free. It is imperative of leadership is to ensure you honour your commitment for fair elections, free of graft and corruption, transparent economic policies, stop denigrating people and their religious beliefs and culture and race or language. These are issues enshrined in the constitution.”

Bersih and Najib's alleged insincere leadership

The August survey by the Merdeka Centre showed Najib's popularity at only 59 per cent compared to 65 per cent three months ago and 72 per cent in May last year. The 6 percentage point tumble is an alarm bell that UMNO - the BN's boss - cannot and is not expected to ignore.

It is even lower than the 61 per cent scored by Najib's predecessor, Abdullah Badawi, just before he led the BN to its worst-ever electoral performance in the 2008 general election, scraping only a simple majority and losing control of 5 states out of 13 to Pakatan.

In the days that followed Najib's high-profile crackdown on the recent July 9 Bersih rally, the PM continued to disparage the movement and tried to whitewash the police brutality dealt out during the march, where more than 50,000 Malaysians had taken part.

But his claims only drew ridicule for himself and his administration. In the past two weeks, Najib has tried to make amends by proposing a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into the electoral reforms demanded by Bersih and Anwar's Pakatan Rakyat coalition. But his refusal to promise the voter system would be cleaned up before the next general election has sparked fresh accusations that this was his latest 'trick'.

Sources told Malaysia Chronicle that Najib could not believe his ratings could plunge so steeply and had commissioned similar surveys but they showed the same declining results. It was not surprising that in the days leading to the release of the Merdeka survey, 'unoffcial spokesmen' of his UMNO party began to speak out against him. Most notable was Perak Mufti Harissani Zakaria who accused the Najib administration of being weak, corrupt and 'lacking in trust'.

Muhyiddin stakes his claim

Speculation is now rife that Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is gearing up to take over the UMNO presidency from Najib soon. The party is due to hold its annual assembly in December and internal elections next year.

However, the 64-year old Muhyiddin was careful not to overly show his hand, although he also did his fair share of sabre-rattling.

“We can’t take the results too seriously and it depends on who the people interviewed were. It may not be the view of most Malaysians,” he told reporters during the Prime Minister’s Hari Raya open house.

“What is important is not the survey but what we do from now on. We need to focus on the issues at hand. We know what the problems are and we are addressing them. One issue is that of the rising costs of living, and I am chairing the NKRA (National Key Results Area) to deal with the rising costs of goods and services. We are looking into ways to solve this issue."

But pundits were not impressed by the DPM's reply and see in him an interim leader to fill up the scandal-tainted Najib's shoes, rather than as a visionary courageous enough to implement the reforms critically needed by the nation.

"Until Muhyiddin faces the reality of how serious the problems are in Malaysia as far the economy, the lack of competition and the protectionism which is now killing us, are - then he is just another 'for show' leader," PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

- Malaysia Chronicle

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