The enemy will come from within, Pak Lah tells Najib

Melissa Chi, MM

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s biggest roadblock to reforming the country will come from his own Umno, according to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in a new book due out next week.

“Najib is trying to do many good things. He is trying to transform the economy, the government and make changes.

“But he faces the same problem that I did ― resistance,” Malaysia’s fifth prime minister wrote in the 620-page book titled “Awakenings: The Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia”.

Abdullah succeeded the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in 2003.

A year later and riding on the promise of reforms, the man, fondly referred to as Pak Lah, led Barisan Nasional (BN) to its most dominant mandate in Election 2004.

But a scant five years after, he was hounded from office by the man who put him there, having led BN from the euphoria of 2004 to the despair of 2008 general election when it lost its customary stranglehold on Parliament.

“I was perhaps too idealistic and thought everyone would embrace the changes which could be the good of the country and people,” Abdullah wrote.

During his time, Abdullah had loosened the reins on the media and allowed seemingly open dissent on the Internet, the latter of which is often credited for the unprecedented gains made by the loose opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat during Election 2008.

“Unfortunately, there are still people in Umno and Barisan Nasional who refuse to accept that we did badly in 2008 because we did not meet the people’s expectations in carrying out reforms.

“They think we did not do well because we allowed too much discourse and openness to the people and the opposition.

“And it is these people who are set in doing things the old way,” Abdullah said.

“This, I believe is Najib’s biggest challenge.”

Najib, the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, took over from Abdullah in April 2009 ostensibly to lead the ruling coalition towards reversing its losses.

But he has since led BN to an even worse electoral showing in Election 2013, losing seven more parliamentary seats from the 140 it had won in 2008; the coalition also lost the popular vote for the first time since it began contesting as BN.

Najib also has more to contend with as he heads into the Umno election later this year.

Last Wednesday, ratings agency Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on the country’s debt to “Negative”, piling the pressure on Najib to speed up the very reforms that may put his Umno presidency — and, ultimately, his office as prime minister — in jeopardy.