Major realignment possible in Malaysian politics

nazir razak

John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel

Banking executive Nazir Razak, the Malaysian prime minister’s brother, has been quietly meeting with business leaders in his UK headquarters and in Kuala Lumpur to attempt to form a well-funded new, nonpartisan political entity to reach out to all races and to end the divisive racial politics that have poisoned the atmosphere of the country.

Nazir, 49, is said to have been meeting with moderates including Chinese leaders in the campaign to formulate the new political party, which would, if successful, dramatically redraw the country’s political landscape, fracturing party lines laid down before the British colonists handed Malaysia back to its own people in 1957.

The plan is considered a long shot. But as an indication of how desperate the group is over the current situation, Nazir would be not only going against his brother but against the legacy of his own father, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, one of the founders of UMNO who served as the country’s second prime minister.

Public face to be Saifuddin

Nazir is said to want to remain in the background, restrained by sentiments over his father’s role in the founding of the country. However, reports of the plan have been widely circulated in Kuala Lumpur although Nazir is expected to publicly deny involvement. Instead, the public face is expected to be Saifuddin Abdullah, a former UMNO minister described as one of the more moderate and liberal-minded politicians in the party.

After leaving parliament, Saifuddin joined the University of Malaya as a research fellow but resigned to protest the forced resignation of Mohamad Redzuan Othman, a social sciences professor who was directed to quit after conducting studies that were critical of the government.  However, Nazir’s friends have advised him that he must emerge as the prime mover or it won’t work. Saifuddin, as much as he is respected as a moderate, doesn’t have the widespread clout to attract support.

The apparent collapse of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition on May 16 appears to set the stage for a possible major political realignment, with the hardline element of fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, seeking to make common cause with UMNO on the theory that the two could take the preponderance of the votes of the 60.1 percent of the population who are ethnic Malay, and preserve ethnic Malay political dominance.

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