The Najib-Anwar Weakly Show

Zaid Ibrahim

It came as a surprise to many people that Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak and Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have been holding “secret negotiations” for a unity government. If the “Edge Review” is to be believed, for the last eight months both sides have been involved in secret meetings to discuss forging a unity government of sorts, with the powerful Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi leading the talks on Najib’s behalf. We can only guess that Anwar’s many close confidantes and advisers led Pakatan’s side of the discussions.

The “Edge Review” also revealed that the negotiations have not been going well, and it seems that Anwar has lost hope of a successful outcome. Internal attacks against Najib seem to have surged lately, suggesting that powerful groups within UMNO are not keen on such a pact with their sworn enemy, the Pakatan Rakyat. The “Edge” quoted a prominent, UMNO-linked businessman as saying that Najib’s position is politically weak, one from which he’s unlikely to get the endorsement of warlords in his party.

I am disappointed that the talks are not succeeding, as I’m certain many Malaysians are. When the idea was mooted by no less than the Prime Minister himself, I sang his praises.  Here is a party leader and PM who, despite enjoying an overwhelming majority, still felt it was necessary to start talking to the Opposition to address the many difficult issues facing the nation. So why have the talks not worked? Was it because they were not, in the end, about national unity, but about keeping alive the political lives of two politicians who can no longer offer anything useful or exciting to the people of this country? This is unlikely because Najib has a strong majority and a large-scale rebellion in UMNO against him is unthinkable, even one led by the irrepressible Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

There is a chance the talks have not been successful because the Opposition proved to be too demanding. Could they have asked for too many Cabinet posts? Perhaps even the powerful Finance Minister’s portfolio? Did they ask Najib to step down at end of this term? What is most exasperating to ordinary people like you and me is that we have to keep guessing about possibly one of the more significant and defining moments in our democratic history, i.e. when the Government and the Opposition were at last talking to one another.

It’s not necessary for such meetings to be held in such a clandestine fashion. The public should be kept informed of the agenda and progress of these talks. If there had been some transparency, we could have at least avoided all the speculation and rumour-mongering.

In today’s world political talks are held openly – at least in a democracy they are. Unfortunately, in this instance we have not been kept informed, not even of the broad outline of the issues to be resolved. What has been on the table for discussions? Were they issues of interest to the people, such as the state of the economy, education, low wages and unemployment, the widening gap between income and wealth of the rich and poor, declining living standards, the oversupply of toll roads, the behaviour of the Muftis, the “Allah” issue and corruption, for instance? That’s what the unity talks should at least try to address, with both sides making the effort to arrive at some hard decisions together.

But if the talks are about Najib’s and Anwar’s political survival then of course the issues would be different. Who will become Deputy PM? Will we need more than one DPM? The very attractive Finance Minister’s portfolio would also be up for grabs by both sides. I am only speculating here as there is no other way to get more information (this is my pre-emptive warning to Anwar not to accuse me of reading nothing else but Utusan Malaysia).

I wonder what assurances or commitment Najib asked from the Pakatan. It’s not inconceivable that the new private jet will be allowed to remain in service, and that Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor will continue with her “diplomatic overtures” overseas, which I can understand, given the quality of our Ambassadors appointed under Najib.