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22 May 2024

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Najib’s new brain trust - Idris Jala, Omar Mustapha et al - draws ire of the Mahathirists

Idris JalaOne lingering criticism against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, following the disappointing performance of the Barisan Nasional in GE13, is how he has allowed government thinking and the election strategy to be outsourced to Pemandu and consultants.
Without much encouragement, Umno politicians and even those in the PM’s inner circle of businessmen can rattle off the names of those whom they believe Najib relied on too heavily in the last 24 months before the general election on May 5.
These include Datuk Seri Idris Jala of the Performance Management Delivery Unit, or Pemandu; a government outfit whose collection of highly-paid consultants were unsuccessful in persuading Malaysians that the crime situation had improved and that jaw-dropping economic statistics were not pie-in-the-sky hyperbole.
Then there were the likes of Omar Mustapha, his brand advisers, his media strategists including some highly paid former members of Tony Blair’s election team.
Since May 5, there has been mounting pressure from Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tun Daim Zainuddin and other senior Umno personalities for Najib to get rid of all his strategists and take control of government decision-making.
They and other critics in Umno would not have been pleased with what happened two Wednesdays ago, on June19, when the Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and the Chief Secretary of the government sat through several hours of presentation by Idris and a collection of individuals being shaped up as the government’s new brains trust. The next day, the experts’ panel appeared before deputy ministers, secretary-generals from 21 ministries and other senior civil servants.
The brains’ trust includes Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, banker Stephen Hagger, Tan Sri Ambrin Buang and Air Asia’s Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Their brief: to discuss issues that affected BN’s performance in GE13 and suggest ideas and policies to help regain support for the coalition.
The Malaysian Insider understands that at the workshop on June 19, Idris Jala did an analysis of the GE13. He also touched on the issues raised by the public before the polls and looked at the trend of voting among Chinese and urban voters.
He also looked forward to GE14. The brains trust identified racial polarisation, distrust in public institutions, the different education streams, rising crime and corruption as issues that may have affected BN’s performance.
The main takeaway from the session with Najib and the Cabinet was that the government must:
  • strengthen its fiscal position and should implement the Goods and services Tax;
  • continue the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) payments, and
  • Do more to meet the expectation of the rakyat in fighting crime and corruption.
The general feeling was that the Najib administration must do a better job of communicating its policies and getting the same message out to the public.
This observation will invite chuckles because more than any other Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib has surrounded himself with several local and foreign media advisers; has embraced social media tools and has an army of cybertroopers and bloggers at his disposal.
Word about the existence of this new group of advisers and Najib’s continued reliance on Idris and Pemandu has already started making its way around, earning the ire of some Umno bloggers.
They have started sniping about the individuals on the brains’ trust panel – Omar and Idris – pointing out that they are likely to infect government’s policies with more liberal ideas like abolishing the Internal Security Act and more grand-sounding policies which will undermine the position of the Malays in the country.
If Najib liberalises the economy or inks the controversial Pacific Trade Agreement with The United States or adopts any ideas pushed forward by these “new advisers”, he will come under renewed pressure from those who believe the way forward for him and BN is simple: focus on the Malay vote and on what Umno wants.
They believe that throwing money at Malaysians is a discredited strategy, given that 51 per cent of the electorate voted for Pakatan Rakyat.
Tony FernandesWhat they truly want is a return to the days of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who basically charted the way forward for the country with his own brand of economics, often against conventional wisdom and most certainly without a battery of consultants.
A recent online poll conducted by an Umno blogger showed that more than half of the respondents wanted Dr Mahathir to govern the country, with Najib nowhere close. Expect the Maharistas to sabre-rattle and pressure Najib with the Umno elections due in October.

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