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Thursday, January 30, 2014

'ENTRAPPED' Najib agrees to reconciliation talks with Opposition but 'GRAVE DANGER' lurks

'ENTRAPPED' Najib agrees to reconciliation talks with Opposition but 'GRAVE DANGER' lurks
UPDATE5 KUALA LUMPUR - In a landmark move, his bravest so far and which may define his legacy, Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to hold 'national reconciliation' talks with the Opposition.
And while the 60-year-old was quick to rule out forming any unity government with Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and the latter's Pakatan Rakyat coalition, there is little doubt such a first step will eventually result in a new power equation or at least in a new political paradigm for Malaysia.
Of course, this is provided the rather fickle-minded Najib does go through with the proposed reconciliation talks and not just leave it at the "rhetoric level".
Meanwhile, the immediate reaction from both sides of the divide was extremely cautious given the "grave danger" involved. There is deep concern that powerful players lurking in the wings such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and former finance minister Daim Zainuddin may be pushed by their followers into staging a coup, even a violent one, to prevent their influence from being diluted.
"Najib has no choice. He is entrapped between the Devil and the deep blue sea," an Umno watcher close to the Najib camp told Malaysia Chronicle. He was referring to why Najib had finally agreed as Anwar has touted the reconciliation plan many times before, even before the May 5 general election was held, on the basis that such a plan would get Malaysia's highly-leveraged and flailing economy moving again.
"Great. Just great," was all Nurul Izzah, the MP for Lembah Pantai and Anwar's daughter, would say in her immediate reaction on Twitter.
Better days ahead for Malaysia with Dr M and Daim neutralized?
Najib's decision comes just days after Anwar's latest olive branch was made on Sunday.
The 66-year-old Opposition Leader had sought 'national consensus' on key issues amid escalating racial and religious tensions over the government's ban on the use of the word Allah, and as Najib faced unprecedented pressure from his own party to step down.
Even so, the PM's tentative first steps at 'reconciliation' with the Opposition to thwart the powerful warlords in Umno can only be described as fragile at best.
Those close to Najib agree he could U-turn at any time especially if Mahathir and Daim decided to openly challenge him for control of Umno and succeeded in rousing up sufficient support.
Those in the Opposition were just as wary, with some expressing cynicism that the slow-moving PM was just using them and the 'reconciliation talks' to threaten his foes in Umno.
"It took Najib 9 months to send a positive message after repeated calls from Anwar and Pakatan leaders. We are still not sure what's his frame of mind and how sincere he is. Anwar has moved one step ahead to call for national consensus because we need to build common values as a nation, build commonly agreed-upon frameworks to resolve political issues, mutual understanding on religious and ethnic relations to avoid confrontation and tension," PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
"If we can achieve this, Malaysia will flly. No need for unity government - just the will to be inclusive and to govern well. The problem is whether Najib will keep this at the rhetoric level. If he keeps blowing and hot and cold as and when he feels the heat from Mahathir, then he is only asking for his own political demise sooner rather than later. A cat has nine lives and this the ninth for Najib as PM."
The next Tunku?
It was no coincidence the Inspector-General of Police had just hours before Najib's announcement given a stark warning against any party that tried to stir up racial or religious violence.
Hardline groups linked to Mahathir had led rowdy protests ostensibly over the Allah issue and even over Najib's own recent faux pas on the 'kangkung' vegetable which had triggered nationwide and international ridicule for his leadership.
The underlying theme behind these protests seemed to be a call to the Malays to rise up and stop the non-Malays from stomping on their special rights and privileges in a chilling hark-back to the bloody May 13, 1969 racial riots, where ironically Najib's father and Mahathir were accused of instigating to oust the then premier Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The buzz in the political scene the past 2 weeks has been whether Najib would be the next Tunku, as it became obvious his foes were lining up to deliver the final 'kill', with the DAP-governed Penang the alleged chosen site for a planned racial flare-up that Najib would be blamed for and made to quit over.
Kajang move: A big sacrifice for Anwar? 
A hurried move by Anwar a day before the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss his 'national consensus' call bolstered speculation that 'something big' was up.
Anwar's announcement that he would contest the Kajang state seat, which was specially vacated for him in a sudden "thunder-bolt" move, had stunned even his closest aides. It also hinted of an intention to take over as the Selangor Mentri Besar or chief minister.
By going for a state government post, Anwar would be signalling that he was willing to give up any claim on a federal government position. It is a major sacrifice for Anwar, who is a world-renowned leader and rated as a potential prime minister.
But those close to the unity talks negotiations had told Malaysia Chronicle that this was a prerequisite demanded by the Najib camp and other senior Umno leaders concerned about maintaining their position in the event of any deal to assimilate leaders from the Opposition into the currently talent-scarce Cabinet.
"Even if Najib and Zahid trust Anwar but I doubt it, my warning is that the grassroots will never accept Anwar. We will never trust that snake again," was the vehement response from an Umno insider to Malaysia Chronicle.
Yet it is not the ordinary Umno members that balk at having anything to do with Anwar but rather those holding positions from branch, division to national levels.
These are the groups that are the fertile ground for the Mahathir factions to sow their seeds of revolt on, despite it becoming painfully obvious the country could not move forward but only down spiral badly until the existing toxicity and political impasse was finally broken.
Already sketched out?
In his statement last night, Najib made it clear he was ready to talk to the Opposition on 4 key ares - social, political, government and international relations but dismissed forming a unity government.
He also ordered Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan to approach Anwar's Pakatan Rakyat coalition to start the ball rolling.
"We were given a strong mandate by the people to govern at the last general election and we intend to do so. However, we must look at becoming more inclusive in our activities and events. We are open to talking to all parties and we can use Parliament, including the setting up of bi-partisan committees to discuss issues affecting national unity," national news agency Bernama reported Najib as saying.
"Over the next few months, you will see changes that will help make Malaysia a stronger, more united and cohesive nation. I invite all Malaysians to join me on this journey."
It is not all clear how and in what form the reconciliation talks will take but for sure, the pace will be measured given the political resistance from those with vested interest.
A large part of the deal has probably been sketched out, needing only to be detailed and fleshed out. Both the Umno-BN and Pakatan can be expected to be tight-lipped over the developments and will leak out information - some of its false -  to test the 'market'.
Given Umno's dominance over its BN partners, as long as Najib is able to fend off the Mahathir and Daim factions, he should be able to get the BN to accept his wishes.
Will PAS leave Pakatan?
The same cannot be said about the Pakatan. There is a real danger that the Islamist PAS may pull out and leave DAP and PKR to carry on.
Already PAS leaders, while agreeing to support Anwar in the Kajang by-election, have made it clear they oppose any move for him to replace the current Selangor chief minister Khalid Ibrahim.
"Obviously, the Kajang move is more than just a tussle between the PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and Khalid Ibrahim for the MB post, which it has been painted out to be. How can it make sense that Anwar could be so irrational as to simply jump in and get the Kajang rep to resign because he suddenly felt like being the MB?" a Pakatan insider told Malaysia Chronicle.
"Depending on which level you are at in Pakatan, the information and goal is different. At the highest level, between PAS president Hadi Awang, Anwar and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, they have been talking about 'reconciliation' or consensus with BN to move Malaysia into a virtuous political cycle and leave behind the racial hatred of Dr M's politics.
"But even at Pakatan, there are vested interests and if PAS thinks it will be the least advantaged from a deal with the Najib camp, it might pull out. But whether it will move over to the Mahathir camp, which has been throwing out lures by supporting Islamic fundamentalism, remains to be seen." - Malaysia Chronicle

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