‘So much for Najib’s reforms’, The Economist says of Bumi agenda

Clara Chooi, MM

Datuk Seri Najib Razak sacrificed his political principles to launch the Bumiputera agenda and though the manoeuvre saved his job as Umno president, a leadership putsch may still be lying in wait for the prime minister, The Economist has said.

The international current affairs magazine pointed out that despite surviving the presidency polls without any contest, many among Umno’s conservatives have placed bids on the party’s second and lower echelons.

One candidate in particular stands out as a more significant threat, The Economist said, pointing to Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, the youngest son of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who many say still holds sway among the party’s right-wingers.

Dr Mahathir still remains a “hero” to many Malays, the magazine wrote, and influence is likely to rub off on his son, who in his own right had earned himself the post of Kedah Mentri Besar after the last general election.

“Should Mr Mukhriz win, the anti-Najib forces could coalesce around him as a proxy for his father,” The Economist wrote.

“A weakened prime minister,” it added, “could then be ousted in an internal putsch, a fate that befell Mr Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who also failed to deliver at the polls.”

The magazine was weighing in on Najib’s latest move to unveil the new Bumiputera empowerment agenda, an initiative worth over RM31 billion in economic aid, loans and programmes for the dominant community, of which the Malays form a huge chunk.

As the announcement had come just a week before nominations for the Umno polls, observers were quick to analyse the manoeuvre as a strategy by the leader to secure his seat as Umno president, an ultimately, his throne as prime minister.

The announcement had also come after a barrage of criticism and demands from pro-Umno blogs and organisations over the preceding weeks, urging the 60-year-old son of second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein to reward the Malays and Bumiputeras for their support in the recent national polls.

In the May 5 polls, Najib had led Barisan Nasional (BN) to a disappointing victory when the ruling pact failed, again, to win the coveted parliamentary super-majority and lost further ground to the nascent three-party Pakatan Rakyat opposition pact, when it took 133 seats to the opposition pact’s 89.

But Najib and BN’s saving grace had been Umno’s performance and support from the Malay community, who helped the ruling party increase its federal representation by a sizeable nine parliamentary seats.

“However cynical, these moves seem to have saved Mr Najib’s skin, at least for the moment,” The Economist agreed of the Bumiputera agenda plan.

“He will not face a leadership challenge in the Umno elections. The prime minister has been helped by the fact that, in the end, Umno hardliners could find no sufficiently weighty figure to take him on.”

When nominations closed for the Umno polls last Saturday, there was no challenger named for the Umno presidency and for the party’s number two spot, allowing Najib’s deputy — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin — to stay as deputy for another term.

But The Economist said this would not matter to Umno hardliners.

“They have forced Mr Najib to shift direction,” the magazine said.

“There is no denying the damage to Mr Najib’s credibility,” it added.

“To many Malaysians, even ethnic Malays, Mr Najib has sacrificed political principles to save his job. His campaigning slogan of ‘1 Malaysia’, emphasising racial harmony, now rings hollow.”

In keeping with the new Bumiputera plan, the “stuttering” Malaysian economy would now have to raise enough money for the programme.

The Chinese and Indian communities here would likely continue leaving the country, “disgusted” by the “overt racism of it all”.

“And the country’s stated goal of becoming a prosperous economy by 2020 will recede further,” The Economist wrote.

“So much for Mr Najib’s great reforms.”