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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Najib’s Afraid of Losing His Job



I stand corrected for predicting that Prime Minister Najib Razak would dissolve Parliament on March 26 to allow for the 13th general election to be held in mid-April. I had thought he would be man enough to do it.
It is unclear now when he will make the much-awaited move to face the people’s decision as to whether they want to retain his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as the government or consign it to the Opposition benches. He could also wait for Parliament to automatically dissolve on April 28.
In fact, the Negeri Sembilan State Assembly has already been automatically dissolved – as its five-year term ended on March 27. The next state assembly to follow suit is the Pahang one on April 7.
Najib’s delay does not look good for him as it shows a lack of confidence. Already, many are calling him “coward” on social media. In contrast to the Opposition’s push forward by first unveiling its manifesto way ahead and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang’s daring declaration of standing in the Gelang Patah parliamentary constituency in Johor, the bastion of BN, followed by DAP MP Liew Chin Tong being moved from Penang to a yet-unnamed seat also in Johor, Najib’s inaction is a sign of weakness.

To make it worse, BN’s Penang state chief, Teng Chang Yeow, has been dared by DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to face him in the Padang Kota state seat. If he declines, he might be called “coward” too. And BN can’t afford to have too many of these in its leadership.
Meanwhile, what Najib has done in an obviously desperate measure to win votes is going around throwing money and goodies at people – first, at the military, the police and the civil service; then at the employees of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) and Telekom Malaysia; and lately at the staff of seven statutory bodies. He has also been promising that if BN continues as government, it will dish out more money to the rakyat. The BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) RM500 handout could become RM1,000.
No wonder a Singapore Straits Times editor, Reme Ahmad, was prompted to call such tactics “Santa Claus politics”. He also pointed out that handouts would not necessarily ensure votes for the giver because the “harsh reality is the more you give, the more people want”. And “the freebies have to be paid for by somebody down the line”.
Most telling is his point that Malaysia is now into its 16th year carrying a budget deficit since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. As such, he thinks that the tax revenue that could have been better spent for development purposes may instead be used to fulfil campaign promises.
“In other words,” he says, “they will be paid for by the same voters who thought they got them for free.”
Negeri Sembilan caretaker Menteri Besar Mohamad Hasan has tried to justify Najib’s lack of action and resolve to call for elections by saying the automatic dissolution of Parliament should be made a common practice. This, he reasons, is because it will prevent speculation on the election date, which could make investors hold back their investment decisions. He also opines that if a government were allowed to serve its full term, that would help it develop the country without interruption.
That kind of talk serves no purpose because our system is not specifically designed for governments to serve full terms. At the same time, Mohamad Hasan should note that it is actually Najib’s indecisiveness that has encouraged the unnecessary speculation and investor hesitancy.
Obviously, his was a spin one could foresee even before he said a word. It belongs in the same rubbish bin as former Selangor Menteri Besar Mohd Khir Toyo’s praise for Najib for choosing to serve the full term and “abandon his privilege to call for a snap election”.
Najib is not opting for that by choice. He’s simply afraid of doing badly at the polls and even losing. Even winning it but with a reduced majority could cost him his job. He has openly admitted that. And it doesn’t help his cause that ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has rubbed it in by saying the same thing.
Be that as it may, the prime minister has to call the shots. If he doesn’t, everyone will be kept in abeyance, including investors. Win or lose, it’s all part of the democratic game. And Najib has to learn to play it fair and square.
Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!

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