Like father, like son

By Leslie Lau, Consultant Editor (The Malaysian Insider)

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21 –  When Datuk Seri Najib Razak takes office as prime minister in March it will be déjà vu for Malaysia.

Like his father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, he will be taking over the reins of power as the country faces challenging political and economic times.

The father, as Malaysia’s second prime minister, had to implement the New Economic Policy (NEP) and, at the same time, repair race relations in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots.

The son, who will become Malaysia’s sixth prime minister, will have to repair Umno’s image amid some racial tension and oversee the remaking of the economy at a time of global crisis.

“He must now move beyond what the father had done,” the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang told The Malaysian Insider.

When Tun Abdul Razak was prime minister, Lim was a first-term MP representing the fledgling DAP. He remains an MP today within a resurgent opposition as Najib prepares to take power.

“Najib will have to move beyond the NEP to ensure Malaysia can be united, instead of fighting with ourselves, and compete with the rest of the world,” said Lim. “If not he will lose out.”

Najib’s most important challenge now is to ensure Malaysia does not slip into recession. He will also have to ensure as many as 300,000 Malaysians, according to some estimates, do not go jobless.

Malaysia’s next prime minister is also facing the challenge of restructuring the economy, and preparing the country for what is looking like the inevitable dismantling of the NEP-type policies put in place by his father.

In recent interviews, he has already pledged to at least begin liberalising the economy while keeping certain elements of the NEP in place.

He has said that when the Malays attain success and confidence to compete globally and domestically, then there would no longer be any need for quotas and special considerations.

Since those remarks were made, a vocal ground has emerged to defend the NEP as special rights of the Malays.

The conservative and more nationalistic faction within Umno have begun questioning the need to assuage the non-Malay communities at the expense of what they see as the inalienable rights of the Malays.

Last weekend’s Kuala Terengganu by-election, the second straight defeat for the Barisan Nasional (BN), has turned out to be a huge jolt for Umno in particular.

Najib and some senior leaders are beginning to see the need for reform. The DPM said yesterday that Umno and BN would need to reform or face defeat in the next general election.

A significant portion of the public now perceives Umno as an arrogant and corrupt party, and that has been singled out as one of the major factors for Umno’s flagging popularity.

“It is not Najib that needs to change the party. Really, it is a case of the members who need to change the party,” Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who is from Umno, told The Malaysian Insider.

“I do not envy Najib. At least his father had a strong party backing him. Under the current scenario, I do not know if the members are ready.”

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that Umno members are now particularly focussed on party elections in March, and that has been singled out as one of the reasons for their defeat in Kuala Terengganu.

The by-election was seen as a distraction from the party polls that offered the largesse that Umno members appear to have grown addicted to.