Najib firmly in driver’s seat as party gives fresh strong mandate

Zubaidah Abu Bakar

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, The Rakyat Post

DATUK Seri Najib Razak got what he expected from the solidarity gathering of Umno division chiefs from all across the country.

No surprise.

The party’s grassroots leaders were at PWTC for a purpose — to hear a response from the party president on several issues that had been bothering them a lot, especially on the multi-billion investment troubles of 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB), the investment vehicle wholly owned by the Finance Ministry, of which Najib is the minister.

It was clear as day light that these division chiefs had no intention at all to call for Najib’s resignation as some people had predicted ahead of the much talked-about gathering.

The warlords, in the words of the gathering’s organising committee spokesman Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob, had requested to meet the Umno president to hear from the horse’s mouth on these issues and they appeared to be satisfied with the clarifications and explanations given.

Now that they had got a clearer picture about the debt-ridden 1MDB, they can go back and explain to party members and counter the allegations from political foes about 1MDB, an investment vehicle wholly owned by the Finance Ministry.

Most important to these division leaders is that Najib had given his assurance that there would be no protection against anyone found to have committed fraud in the operations of the debt-ridden 1MDB.

Umno grassroots leaders are concerned since the critics were not confined to those from the other side of the political divide; a lot of noises, too, came from the Prime Minister’s opponents in Umno; the chief critics being former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose support Najib has since lost.

A fresh mandate of sorts was what Najib needed amid increasing questions over leadership deficiencies and the Umno elections scheduled next year.

Najib’s approval rating, according to the latest survey by pollster Merdeka Centre, is below what it was when he started as Prime Minister in 2009. The January survey saw his rating plunge to 44%, the lowest ever.

His approval rating was at 45% in May 2009; it had increased over the years with the highest reaching 72% in May 2010.

The handling of the economy and ethnic relations had been responsible for a decline in the ratings in surveys conducted from then onwards.

The attendance at the closed-door gathering may not be 100%, just around 160 of the 191 division leaders were present, but the majority still had faith in Najib to lead Umno and the country.

Still, the absence of certain personalities, despite Ismail Sabri’s explanation that these division chiefs had prior engagements, had raised more questions over the much talked about Mahathir-linked anti-Najib movement in Umno.

Notably absent was Najib’s deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who heads the Pagoh Umno division and Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, who is the Jerlun division chief.

Talk about Najib’s opponents in Umno rallying behind Muhyiddin has been around since before the 13th General Election, but until now it has remained just that.

Najib has been under tremendous pressure from Opposition parties since he became Prime Minister, but his position is safe, at least until the 14th General Election, unless a revolt takes place in Umno.

Between the two, it is the latter that he fears most.

There are pockets of dissatisfaction in Umno and Najib is not oblivious of this fact, no doubt.

Things are still under control.