All turning to Najib even before he is PM

He is 62 days away from becoming Malaysia's sixth Prime Minister but Datuk Seri Najib Razak is already leaving his imprint on some important decisions in government.

More importantly, among the men and women in Umno, where the ability to scent a shift in power is part of the survival pack, there has been a discernible move towards him.

The most telling sign was when a delegation of Penang Umno leaders visited him at his office this week.

They came to brief him about rumblings in the state and warn him of the possibility of crossovers from Penang Umno to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the opposition party led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. They wanted him to intervene.

This request presented an awkward moment for Najib.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi remains the prime minister and party president. He is also the senior most Umno leader from Penang.

If there was a need for intervention from the top, the request should have been made to Abdullah, not his deputy.

But this is the reality. Abdullah stopped being a factor in Umno the day he announced he was not defending his president's position. Sure, he still controls the levers of power but the consensus in the party and government is that he has taken his foot off the pedal.

Umno/Barisan Nasional politicians sense this and have been beating a path to Najib's office or home to lobby for positions in government-linked companies, contracts or just brief him on current developments.

When the controversy over the A. Kugan's death in police custody threatened to boil over and accusations were lobbed at two deputy ministers over their alleged roles in leading a mob into the hospital morgue, Senator T. Murugaih made his way to Najib's home.

He showed the deputy prime minister photographs of the dead detainee.

By then, Abdullah had returned home from an official visit to Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai.

Even in government policies and appointments, Najib's influence has been growing.

For instance, there has been some disquiet in government circles over the possibility of former Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim being appointed as the chairman of Tabung Haji.

The Malaysian Insider understands that several government officials made representations to Najib who passed on their concerns to Abdullah.

Abdullah had apparently told Shahidan that he would be given the plum position in Tabung Haji, following the latter's ouster as the Perlis Menteri Besar after Election 2008.

Till today, Shahidan has not been appointed as chairman of Tabung Haji.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that the deputy prime minister wants to ensure that people with the right credentials are placed in top positions in GLCs. They would not rule out changes at several GLCs after he becomes the prime minister.

Eyebrows were also certainly raised when Najib said that the government had not made a final decision on Air Asia's plan to build a new low cost carrier terminal Labu.

This statement caught several ministers by surprise because the matter had been deliberated and decided by the Cabinet several weeks ago.

In fact, a letter of approval was sent to Sime Darby Berhad, the owner of the land on which the RM1.6 billion LCCT is supposed to be built.

Perhaps in deference of his soon to be acquired position as leader of the country, no one has corrected him, either in public or privately.

Tomorrow, Najib will hear representations by Air Asia's Datuk Tony Fernandes and counter arguments by government officials before making a final decision on the new LCCT.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that Najib was concerned over the fallout from the decision to approve the project and was also keen to understand how Air Asia was going to finance the RM1.6 billion airport and raise the RM700 million needed  for supporting infrastructure, including road and rail connectivity.

"He wants to be fair to everyone and make sure that there is no drag on the government because of this,'' said an informed source, noting that a possible solution could be for Air Asia to be allowed to build its own LCCT within the KLIA complex.

Still, many believe that Najib's intervention in this issue could have been better scripted. They pointed out that if he had major reservations about the project, he should have made it clear during the Cabinet meeting when the idea was discussed and during several other discussions on the matter.

By reacting so late in the day, the impression created is that the administration is prone to changing its position when challenged by public opinion.

Najib's supporters said that he is mindful that he is still the No. 2 in the party and is careful not to usurp the power or stature of Abdullah before the transition of power takes place. Abdullah's supporters said that it is inevitable for party members to start looking beyond the prime minister.

In any case, Abdullah always wanted Najib to grow into the position, and they believe that he will be prepared to give his deputy even more room from now on.