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Monday, June 29, 2015

Najib foregoes chance to regain credibility

Postponing the Umno elections is an admission of weakness.
COMMENT
najib-umno
A question: if you find yourself in a vulnerable position, what would you do? Fight back? Attempt to fortify your position? Abandon it? All three courses of action have been tried by various leaders in history and have had various outcomes.
Prime Minister Najib Razak appears to have chosen the second option. He has decided to buy time to fortify his position. He has moved the goalposts and postponed the Umno elections for 18 months, the maximum amount of time allowed by the Umno constitution. Whether his position will indeed be fortified remains to be seen. Anyhow, he now has the leeway to go about his business without having to worry about being ousted by his own party, at least until the next general election.
Surely, Najib’s advisers and strategists are patting themselves on the back for digging up a rule that would bypass the need for Najib to seek a fresh mandate from his party. After all, the anti-Najib talk in Umno has grown from whisper to murmur to distinctly audible speech over the past couple of months. Najib would not want to risk elections in any shape or form until he can repair the damage caused to his reputation by the slew of scandals surrounding his administration, from 1MDB to Tabung Haji to the latest controversy surrounding Mara.
However, such a move translates politically as an admission of weakness, not just to the Prime Minister’s political opponents, but to the public at large. Najib’s official excuse – that he needs to attend to his duties – has a false ring to it. It raises the question of what exactly he has spent his time doing so far. Any Malaysian can rattle off about his frequent overseas visits, his attempts to avoid any public confrontation with former PM Mahathir Mohamad and the scandals involving his pet project as part of a long list of less than savoury items.
We are not fooled for a single second when Najib says he would rather delay the elections to allow himself time to fulfil his duties to us. In fact, having the elections can be considered a crucial step in rehabilitating his image. A fresh mandate from his party could re-legitimise his position somewhat, and no one can deny that he is in desperate need of any form of public approval. Did he not boast of how many Umno divisional leaders would flock to his side?
Mr Prime Minister, Sir, with your decision to delay the party elections, you signal to your enemies just how unsure you are of the support you have within your party. Even if that were not the case, common sense dictates that a show of solidarity in a time of crisis would bolster the credibility of your administration while making you look like a capable, dominant leader who rightfully deserves his position.
The decision appears to be nothing more than the ploy of a leader who fears the judgement of his people, and that perception is one Najib needs to avoid at all costs.
However, it is exactly because he is weak and because he is besieged by questions over the management of the country’s finances that Najib must seek out a fresh mandate from his party. Party elections would not only give him the opportunity to seek a fresh mandate, but would also refresh the party with new blood, as has been suggested by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
As far back as 2014, Muhyiddin has been calling for the 2016 party elections to go on as scheduled, citing the need for the party to remain relevant and for party members to put the party above the self. And he is right. A failure to rejuvenate Umno means that it will sink further into irrelevance as other parties vie for the right to represent the Malays.
Some analysts see this as a stalling action to gain more political power before having to face elections. Najib may have a longer game in mind, but in his current position, avoiding a challenge may be the worst move he could make because public confidence in him is lower than it has ever been. Time will tell if the gamble pays off, but right now, it doesn’t look like he’s holding the winning cards.

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