Terengganu: It may not be all that bad for Najib

(The Edge) THE leadership crisis in Umno Terengganu has surfaced at the wrong time for new party president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Or has it?

Think again. With reform on his mind and PAS party polls around the corner, the timing of the “crisis” cannot be all that bad for Najib.

In fact, it could be just what the doctor ordered.

First, it gives Najib an early, perfect excuse to ring the changes in the Umno Terengganu leadership without much resistance.

Dousing the festering feud that contributed to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) inability to defend the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat is important. But having a progressive, pragmatic leader at the head of the state is more important.

Also, the sooner Najib straightens out the issues besotting Umno in the state, the more time he will have to rebuild public support for the party. Terengganu, an overwhelming Malay-majority state, is crucial to Umno. It cannot afford to see the state go the way of Kelantan and Kedah.

Second, PAS at its upcoming convention in June could be forced to show both its hands with respect to its ties with other Pakatan Rakyat (PR) components. This could influence political developments in Terengganu, the home state of PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and several other party bigwigs, in view of their differences with the so-called Erdogans.

The ambiguity and fuzziness characterising PAS’ position in PR due largely to these differences clearly is unsustainable. More so when Umno’s problems are no longer stealing the limelight.

At some point, PAS must come clean about its PR ties, and the time for that has arrived. People want to know if PR as an alliance is going anywhere, and if PAS’ liaison with PR is “real” or just a silly infatuation.

PAS has shared a platform with PKR and DAP on so many occasions, including in campaigning ahead of the KT by-election. Naturally, people would want to see PAS take the relationship forward.

Its nemesis Umno has swallowed the bitter pill and moved on, and so PAS must show that it is ready to move on, too. Without PAS’ full commitment to the alliance, the scope of what PR can achieve would be severely curtailed. Clearly, unless PAS leaders think and act as one, the PR structure will remain flimsy, and the country can forget about a two-coalition political system.

Alas, at the moment it’s difficult to envisage the party’s traditionalist faction, which predominates in Terengganu, sharing a dinner table with alliance partner DAP, for instance.

So what hope is there for the parties to take the relationship a step further if they can’t be expected to sink and swim together.

No doubt Najib will be looking closely at how the tussle for dominance within PAS will play out at the party’s convention in Shah Alam, as the outcome may have a significant influence on how Umno goes about growing its fortunes in Terengganu.

But whilst the timing of the “crisis” in Terengganu could be advantageous to Najib, can he be sure that the right person is picked to lead the state? He has given the two factions in Umno Terengganu one month to sort things out themselves.

Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said may emerge stronger from this episode, but when the one-month grace is up, Najib may have his man ready to take charge of the state nonetheless.

Whomever he picks to lead Terengganu, Najib must understand that the state needs a chief executive more than an administrator. It needs a person who can look after its “sovereign wealth” properly and not squander it on cheap handouts and construction projects of dubious benefits.

The person must think about the state’s welfare for the long term. He must know how to create employment and raise the standard of living of a rural population and ensure a revenue stream for the state after oil runs out.

The state is rich in resources no doubt, but over the years, its people have been stood up by their leaders, including during PAS rule.

If Terengganu Investment Authority ever gets off the ground, perhaps Najib should think long and hard about keeping these politicians away from the establishment.

He may not get any objections from PAS Terengganu on this, given that its leaders are not averse to working with Umno for the sake of Malay unity. It’s a stance that has riled the Erdogans. The PAS convention in Shah Alam may just rekindle interest in the unity idea if the party is pushed to show both its hands.

So there, the “crisis” in Terengganu opens up plenty of options for Najib. It is not surprising, therefore, to find those who believe this whole episode has been cleverly stage-managed.