2011: The year for Najib to live (dangerously)

The late developments of 2010, with Anwar Ibrahim’s APCO-induced suspension from Parliament and cloak and dagger sodomy trial, may not lead to actual jail time — but do underline that the opposition leader may have passed his peak.

Praba Ganesan, The Malaysian Insider

The coming year will decide if Najib Razak is made of the right stuff or not. Everything he has experienced in his various avatars the last 34 years of public life will culminate in 2011. To decide if he is the next Malaysian leviathan or a space filler like Abdullah Ahmad Badawi waiting for his exit countdown to complete.

Najib has spent most of his career as a consummate pragmatist. Willing to wait it out even if he misses the opportunity for a leap, in order to avoid a fall — Najib does not like to lose. He has little experience in that.

But why 2011 you ask? The honeymoon of taking over office would have effectively ended. So too the novelty of all his new paradigms, and everyone will start to clamber around looking for proof in the pudding.

And there is the question of him getting his own mandate — every one of his predecessors in their early years has been fortunate here; Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1952 (though it was just the KL local council elections), Razak in 1974 (Goodbye Alliance, Hello BN), Hussein in 1978 (We can do it without PAS development), Mahathir in 1982 (You may not like my potong gaji and time clock thing, but you’ve voted for me) and Abdullah in 2004 (Look, look, I’m not Mahathir).

Najib can wait till 2012, but all the birds have been chirping about the coming year. One suggested there will be no new Petronas undertakings until polls are held, apparently other things need greasing now.

A general election would be major. However, the central theme of the enquiry is whether Najib is a man of destiny, makes lives better — at least in the qualitative assessment of the Malaysian voters?

Therefore the first six months of 2011 will be about not having any negative news about the economy or the projects/transformations which he has initiated. Idris Jala’s Pemandu and the BN labs have to come good, it cannot just be about what they can do, it is time for what they have.

The second flank, and frankly the harder flank to defend is the campaign proving Malaysia is for all — the 1 Malaysia. The prime minister received plaudits for his visit to a church and asserting that the Christmas message was equally applicable to all Malaysians, Muslims included.

However, within four days he is plagued by accusations his people asked the visited church before his arrival to make it less Christian looking. And now he has come unstuck.

Najib has picked an untenable position with his 1 Malaysia since his party Umno is determined to have a Malaysia of categories, more importantly, weighted categories.

Unlike his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, Najib has issued a blank cheque to the people of Malaysia, and will hope with all his heart that not enough choose to cash it before he gets a fresh mandate.

Either way, Najib will be the newsmaker of 2011.

Inter-faith, the faithless and spellers

Najib’s faith will be tested by his ability to allow for a multi-religious Malaysia to exist. No bold goals, just to sell to Malaysians that in Malaysia there is religious space.

To non-Malaysians this might seem like a routine task, but we locals know better, we know the battering diversity took under the rule of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The man-god who was quite happy to see his people move inexorably to social separation as long as he stayed in power. The reincarnated Umno depicts his intolerance, therefore for Najib to triumph he has to undo the legacy.

As the recent “church redo for PM’s visit” fiasco suggests, he might want to be fair, but those around him think fair is an inappropriate gauge when it comes to religion.

So his yet-to-be-finalised (finalised as in the name, which is contentions to some) committee on religious understanding moves from venue to venue, having limited and closed-door discussions, and will get absolutely nowhere.

I believe in 2011 he will be found out, and the Christian vote most definitely will not head to BN if there is a general election.

The Sarawak polls

The definitive event to determine if Sarawak, and by extension, rural Malaysia is ready to move on or away from Barisan Nasional. Parti Pesaka Bersatu Bumiputera (PBB) will lead Sarawak BN to victory, but that is however not the crux of the matter.

What will be is the size of victory.

BN has won all Borneo by-elections except Sibu’s, but the handouts are more spread out in a state-wide election, and people may not find an overemphasise in any particular seat. More might follow their conscience and in the more mixed seats this might result in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) especially the DAP gaining a few more seats.

The votes moving away from BN have been long anticipated. Again, it is about magnitude. PR now has seven (six DAP, one PKR) of the 71 seats available. Taking over the state is unlikely, but breaking the 20-seat ceiling would be colossal, and I am predicting somewhere closer to 20 but not past it.

This is not colossal nor rings the end of Taib Mahmud and family, but it ends the idea Sarawak is a sure-thing for BN. The DAP will have to be in top form to lead the onslaught.

The general election

If it happens will be one of strategic results as BN will run the country after it.

PKR will not face an “Apocalypse Now” scenario like in 2008, but neither will they scale the joys of 2008. They’d end up with probably 20-25 parliamentary seats and be party to a PR-led Selangor.

The balance for PKR will be decided by their appeal to Indian voters. They were the most active in the party polls even if none of them actually ended up in senior party posts.

When we speak of the Indian votes, the reference is to the overwhelming Tamil-speaking population. Those who do not share the same aspirations as R. Sivarasa or N. Surendran, but more so with N. Gobalakrishnan and former ISA detainee and Hindraf activist Uthaya Kumar. Poorer and with lower social mobility, the former BN vote bank.

PKR does not have to be race-driven, but if it wants to show race-sensitivities then parading a bunch of affluent English-speaking lawyers just does not do it.

The extent of that drop will determine PKR’s fortune.

It’s the DAP and PAS who will hold up the PR ship. And they can both hit 30 plus parliamentary seats themselves, or in a worst-case scenario roll back to 20 only. I do not see the worst case materialising.

Anwar stagnates, and Nurul Izzah comes good

The late developments of 2010, with Anwar Ibrahim’s APCO-induced suspension from Parliament and cloak and dagger sodomy trial, may not lead to actual jail time — but do underline that the opposition leader may have passed his peak.

From the pre-election 2008 charade of whether his married daughter might be waiting for her husband to allow her to contest, to today as outspoken and broad-bold ideas promulgator — Nurul Izzah is steadying herself for national leadership.

Deputy president Azmin Ali’s concerns about his vice-president might cloud some of the issues, but he will realise he has to spend more time propping himself up as a potential party leader rather than worrying about how a 30-year-old tries to find her footing in senior party politics.