The Najib factor in BN’s twin wins

(The Malaysian Insider) – In just three years, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has promoted himself and his agenda to revive Barisan Nasional’s (BN) fortunes for another string of by-election wins yesterday while Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has floundered due to a cohesive strategy and policy.

BN won both the Merlimau and Kerdau state seats with significantly higher majorities than in Election 2008, where it had lost 82 Parliament seats and four state governments to a loose political pact led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The pact later coalesced as PR but remains as loose as it was on March 8, 2008 when it shattered the veneer of popularity for then-Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his Umno, the dominant partner in the BN.

Abdullah never recovered from the blow of Election 2008, just four years after he brought BN to its biggest victory ever in the 2004 elections where the ruling coalition won 91 per cent of the parliamentary seats and all states except Kelantan which PAS has kept since 1990.

Najib took over in April 2009, weighed down by scurrilous gossip that linked him to the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder and an Umno that could no longer command the majority of Malay support, its raison d’etre since the party was first founded in 1946.

Instead of pushing a damaged Umno and a hurt BN, Najib has pushed himself to the fore with economic policies and a moderate tone to win over Malaysians, including the Indian community that deserted the ruling coalition in the aftermath of the Hindraf march in November 2007.

He started with 1 Malaysia, proceeding to unveil his New Economic Model (NEM) with the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and later the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which covers nearly 200 projects and business opportunities.

The jury is out on the programmes and the funding but Najib has enjoyed a comfortable level of personal popularity since succeeding Abdullah, although Umno itself has yet to recover from the bruising Election 2008.

A measure of his success is the young candidates Umno has put up in the last three by-elections, or whom Najib has dubbed “winnable candidates” in his quest to renew and reform the party revived by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after it was declared illegal in 1988.

“Basically, even if you don’t trust Umno, you can trust Najib. That’s the message,” an analyst told The Malaysian Insider last night.

The analyst also said facing Najib in the past two years has been an increasingly rudderless PR where de facto chief Anwar has been distracted by yet another sodomy trial, the first which pushed him out of contention as prime minister in 1998.

Anwar has thus far kept quiet over this past week’s brewing spat between allies PAS and DAP over Kelantan’s anti-gambling laws. All three parties had ironically promised last year not to allow football pools which was initially licensed to a Berjaya Group unit but has since been rescinded.

“PR is far from united as Anwar is the glue for PR but the trial is taking its toll and has reduced him to a figurehead,” said a PR leader who declined to be named.

In many ways, he added, the past three years have seen a reversal in fortunes for both Najib and Anwar.

“Anwar led us to a string of victories from Election 2008 to some of the by-elections but that seems so far away now. Najib is on the rise,” warned the leader.

“We have to get our act straight, work on our strengths and ensure the momentum of 2008 is not lost,” he added.

For the record, PR has won eight out of the 15 by-elections held since Election 2008.

Political analyst Datuk Dr Zainal Kling said the double win last night could be used as a benchmark of public support although the political tsunami that swept during the 2008 general election has not subsided.

“This is because we are yet to be sure of support by urban voters but there are signs that public support has returned to BN,” he told state news agency Bernama.

Zainal said this was due to hard work by Najib who created policies like the GTP, ETP and National Key Result Areas (NKRA).

“The BN government has to double its efforts to maintain the existing momentum, because the opposition always come out with plans and agenda to attract interest of the people,” he said.

INTI International University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid said BN cannot be too comfortable with the wins as history has showed that small errors can lead to a political tsunami like in 2008.