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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not much for Najib and Rosmah to celebrate this Raya: Succession plan in Dec?

Not much for Najib and Rosmah to celebrate this Raya: Succession plan in Dec?

The sharp 6 percentage point plunge in Prime Minister Najib Razak's approval rating is likely to set in motion two major decisions by the top UMNO leadership, already disgruntled with his underperformance since being appointed to replace Abdullah Badawi in April 2009.

The first is the decision to hold the 13th general election before the end of this year, most likely towards the end of October or in early November. The second is that, whatever the outcome of the GE, the curtains will fall on the Najib administration and he will be replaced by another leader, most likely his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin during party polls due to be held next year.

Sources told Malaysia Chronicle that Najib could not believe his popularity could drop so much within a three-month period, and he ordered parallel surveys to be conducted. But these too pointed to a big drop in public approval for him.

As for the latest poll published by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, it found that Najib's popularity had slumped to 59 per cent from 65 per cent in June. Core reasons cited were the recent slew of price hikes triggered when his administration insisted on slashing subsidies for consumer essentials, rather than trim huge gas subsidies granted to crony Independent Power Producers.

Another reason was his mishandling of the Bersih rally for free and fair elections. His ham-fisted crackdown earned Malaysia comparison with banana republic regimes and also triggered ridicule that the BN feared clean polls because it could not win otherwise.

Similar bad omen for Pak Lah in 2008

Meanwhile, pundits point to a similar survey conducted a month before 12th GE in 2008, which had put the then-prime minister Abdullah Badaw's popularity at 61 per cent. Yet, Pak Lah went on to lose the BN's two-thirds majority.

"At 59 per cent, this means Najib is even less popular than Pak Lah at the height of the latter's unpopularity. The impact of this to the next GE is big. Najib's announcement that he will hit the ground after the Hari Raya holdidays is a response to the latest poll's results," PKR director of strategy Rafizi Ramli told Malaysia Chronicle.

"Najib really has to watch his back now, as there is growing resentment for him and wife Rosmah Mansor because of the perception they spend so much public money for doing so little work. The UMNO rank and file are beginning to blame Najib for the party's misfortune. The internal call that he is replaced before the next GE is growing louder and UMNO ranks may be right that their electoral prospects can only improve if Najib is replaced, seeing as how Pak Lah's popularity never once improved after hitting a high in 2004."

Little room to maneuver with economic slowdown looming

Indeed, the signals were already loud and clear last week when Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria, a well-known UMNO stalwart, began to publicly criticise the Najib administration as weak and corrupt. "The Malays are split because the government is very weak, betrays trust (tidak amanah) and is corrupt," Harussani had said.

Hot on his heels was academic Mohammad Agus Yussoff, who agreed with Harussani, adding that Najib's government was afraid to listen to different viewpoints. According to Agus, this factor further split the Malays as well as the current practise of discriminating and sidelining the community in opposition-run states such as Kelantan.

To Rafizi, the steeply declining economy also meant there were few options left for Najib and UMNO as far as the timing of the GE-13 was concerned.

"If Najib delays it, it can only get worse because the things that may earn him popularity are highly unpopular in UMNO such as electoral reforms, letting go of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. Furthermore, he doesn't have much time to improve his image even if he postpones the GE because UMNO has to carry out its election by Ocober 2012," said Rafizi.

"UMNO needs about 6 months to campaign for party elections, so at most he can only postpone to March. But by March, the effect of the economic downturns in USA and Europe will hit Malaysia and economically, it s unfavourable. Unless Libya has a major impact, crude oil will remain high which means he is unable to lower petrol prices."

Succession plan in December?

There is also talk that UMNO warlords want Najib to be replaced before the GE-13 is held. If this group gets its way, then GE-13 will likely be held early next year, before April 2012. As for Najib, he would then be phased out when the party holds its general assembly in early December 2011.

"This is not at all unlikely and the only snag is that the economy might disintegrate further by then. Otherwise, gauging by the talk within UMNO now, it's a cinch Najib will be forced to announce a succession plan in December itself, if not step down immediately then," a veteran UMNO watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

However, BN leaders brushed aside the Merdeka findings.

“The opposition has twisted and turned the issue. Even the Jais (Selangor Islamic Religious Department) issue, it is also blamed on BN,” Malaysian Insider reported MCA vice president Donald Lim as saying.

“I don’t believe the survey. Probably they woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” said MIC vice president M Saravanan

In the Merdeka survey, which was publicly released on Monday, 69 per cent of Malays, 38 per cent of Chinese and 69 per cent of Indian respondents expressed satisfaction. At the same time, the survey found that 51 per cent of the electorate felt that the country was headed in the right direction down 3 full percentage points from 54 percent in May 2011.

"From the survey, we note that the significantly reduced approval rating may be due to the increased concerns over cost of living related matters as ordinary citizens begin to feel the impact of hikes in the price of fuel and electricity. Besides pocket book issues, the poll result also suggests some linkage with adverse public perception of how the government handled events and public discourse arising from the BERSIH 2.0 rally and other related events," said the Merdeka centre.

.- Malaysia Chronicle

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