Clock starts ticking for Najib, while Anwar basks in the glow of KT and Bota

As the moon waxes and wanes, so too have the political fortunes of Deputy Premier Najib Razak and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. But with the latest shock defection of a prized Umno assemblyman to keADILan, a key turning point may have been hit. Attention is now firmly back on Anwar and what next he has to unveil, while Najib faces the music from his own party …


Wong Choon Mei, Suara keADILan

Whether he chooses to admit it or not, pundits say the political clock has begun ticking for Najib Abdul Razak, even before he takes over as the country’s sixth prime minister in March.

They point at Sunday’s decision by Bota assemblyman, Nasaruddin Hashim, to leave Najib’s Umno for keADILan, the party led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“This is a direct consequence of the Kuala Terengganu by-election defeat at the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition,” said a veteran political watcher.

“KT is a core Malay heartland and the loss is starting to create the sort of reverberations in Umno that some members have been expecting, but were afraid to say out loud. There can be only two outcomes for Umno and Najib now. His ouster and the party’s re-birth, or his survival and the party’s demise.”

In top-level politics since he was 22, the 55-year old Najib is perceived by many to personify many of the ills that have brought down the once-mighty party. Umno has been increasingly shunned in recent years by younger-generation Malays for pushing a cocktail of corrupt and elitist politics.

Despite being the campaign director for KT, Najib was quick to distance himself from the loss, and sees Nasaruddin’s defection as a one-off incident.

“These are all rumours. I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if this could be the tip of the iceberg. “It is not right to abandon the party because of personal problems or dissatisfaction at a time when the party needs our support.”

Nasaruddin, however, paints a different picture, pin-pointing “the situation that exists now in Umno and its leadership” as a main reason behind his move.

“This decision was taken after a long study and consideration of the public’s interest in general, especially my supporters and voters in the state assembly area of Bota,” he said.

Contrasting fortunes

As Najib’s star begins to lose some sparkle, arch rival Anwar is resurgent.

The opposition icon, who led Pakatan to a historic performance in the 2008 general election by winning five of the nation’s 13 states, had suffered a setback when he failed to follow through on a promise to topple the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government by September last year.

But with the KT win underscoring the still-growing faith Malaysians have in him, the 61-year old former deputy premier is confident of being able to attract more BN leaders to the Pakatan fold.

“Now the Ox has come in, just be patient… we are working hard just like the ox,” Anwar said at KeADILan’s Chinese New Year open house in Klang.

Indeed, KT and Nasaruddin’s defection – both occurring within the same month – are sweet victories for the Pakatan coalition comprising KeADILan, DAP and PAS.

Subjected to an intense bout of bad press from the BN-controlled media, the trio has had to fight off a string of speculation, including talk about an imminent bust-up over ideological differences and political incompatibility.

“The decision of Nasaruddin is critical, reflecting the sentiment of his voters, primarily the Malays in his constituency,” said Anwar, adding that it also reflected the “beginning of a new wave” for the Pakatan.

Najib courts non-Malays

Meanwhile, Najib is trying hard to make up for his declining popularity within his own community by winning over the other ethnic groups.

In particular, he has taken pains to court the Chinese community through the MCA-controlled newspapers by portraying himself as a dependable and moderate Malay leader

He is also trying to reach out to the Indian community, taking an interest in the latest flare-up over alleged police brutality against a 22-year old suspect – Kugan Ananthan – that resulted in his death while in custody.

Yet, barely three months ago, Najib was at the peak of his popularity, sweeping the Umno presidency uncontested during party nominations in November.

He was also perceived as being in the group that manoeuvred Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi into accepting responsibility for the 2008 general election debacle and agreeing to early retirement.

Najib’s supporters had then justified Abdullah’s ouster by claiming it was the only way to snap the Umno-BN losing streak. They also said Najib was the only viable choice for both the Malays and the rest of the nation.

According to them, Najib “is the one who has the numbers”. But the deterioration has not stopped and ironically, it may be his days as the top gun in Umno that are now numbered.

“Umno was defeated even in its own long-held bastion. The loss of Kuala Terengganu shows that the people are now starting to reject the leadership of Najib,” said Anwar.