Najib: Dr M still watches over me

Zurairi AR, The Malaysian Insider

Datuk Seri Najib Razak appeared today to admit that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad still wields a strong influence over the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration, pointing out that the country’s longest serving prime minister is “watching over him”.

While launching the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) annual general meeting (AGM) here, Najib congratulated Dr Mahathir for Vision 2020, a blueprint for Malaysia to reach the status of a developed nation which was launched by the latter in 1991.

“He got the easy task, (but) I got the difficult task,” the Najib joked.

“He announced … made the vision, (but) I had to fill up his vision. Because he’s still watching over me.”

Dr Mahathir was also mentioned by PPP president Datuk Seri M Kayveas in his opening address, who thanked the former prime minister for his contribution to the nation.

Kayveas described Dr Mahathir as a “priceless pearl” and the architect of modern Malaysia, whom he credited for PPP’s rise to relevance.

“It is not wrong for me to say PPP was given recognition and solid support during Tun’s time until it became a stable party (up) from the dark ages,” Kayveas told the hall filled with around 4,000 PPP members here.

Buoyed by praise from Najib and Kayveas, Dr Mahathir emerged from the event today boasting that BN would snap up the two-thirds parliamentary majority it is gunning to win in the next polls.

“I think today we could see PPP for example … the spirit is very good,” Dr Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of the PPP assembly today.

“You can see it, you can feel it. I’m sure we’ll do much better than the last (election), and we may even get the two-thirds majority.”

The veteran statesman has remained in the public eye since his exit from the forefront of Umno politics in October 2003, but has been more prominent in the spotlight of late, seemingly in his attempt to shore up support for BN ahead of the polls.

But the outspoken Dr Mahathir has made it known that he was campaigning to keep Umno and BN alive, even though it meant trumpeting policies by Najib that he has oftentimes admitted he disagreed with.

Opposition leaders have been criticising Umno and Najib for fearing Dr Mahathir’s influence and therefore, refusing to shut him up, and have warned that the former prime minister’s sometimes radical remarks may frighten off Najib’s middle ground support.

Critics also have pointed to Dr Mahathir’s apparent endorsement for Malay right-wing group Perkasa, oftentimes described as an outlet for Umno conservatives to spew pro-Malay and pro-Islam extremism, which has been curbed in the party, as Najib tries to garner centrist votes.

Dr Mahathir’s influence in Umno has been seen as just the right balance that Najib needs to keep Umno’s conservative bloc of supporters in BN’s fold.

As such, Najib has not once criticised Dr Mahathir, likely learning from his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s past.