How Najib defeated Mahathir by doing nothing
Mahathir’s move to create his dynasty started in 2009. When that failed he tried again in 2013 but failed again. And Mahathir blames Najib for that. In that same 2013 Mahathir plotted Najib’s ouster but Najib did nothing for two years. In July 2015 Najib made his move and ended the coup once and for all. From then on Mahathir made mistake after mistake and dug the hole even deeper.
THE CORRIDORS OF POWER
Raja Petra Kamarudin
In January 1981 a man named Bahrum Shah a.k.a. Pak Om, a close associate of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, approached the then Deputy Prime Minister to ask for help with his ailing business.
Mahathir told Pak Om that as a Deputy Prime Minister, as much as he is embarrassed to admit it, he has very little power. However, wait another six months, said Mahathir. Once he takes over as Prime Minister he will be in a position to help. It won’t be long before Hussein Onn steps down, Mahathir confided in Pak Om.
Mahathir then got his proxy, Sulaiman Palestin, to make his move on Hussein Onn. At the same time Mahathir told Hussein Onn that Umno wants Harun Idris pardoned and released from jail, which upset the Prime Minister who had earlier asked Umno to choose between Harun and him. This was what was reported at that time:
Ketika itu Hussein Onn hanya pemangku Presiden UMNO. UMNO Bahagian Sungai Besi satu-satunya bahagian UMNO yang telah mencalonkan beliau bertanding menentang Hussein Onn. Cabaran ini bukanlah cabaran yang ‘credible’ namun ia memecahkan tradisi UMNO. Ekoran cabaran dari ‘maverick’ itu, Hussein Onn melepaskan jawatan sebagai Presiden UMNO dan Perdana Menteri Malaysia pada 16 Julai 1981 kepada Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
So what Mahathir predicted six months earlier came true after all. By clever scheming and manoeuvring, he managed to get Hussein Onn to step down whereby he took over as Prime Minister and stayed for 22 years. And soon after that his good friend, Pak Om, was rescued from financial ruin with the award of the Sultan Ismail Power Station in Terengganu, a massive project by any standards more than 30 years ago.
With that power station project in Paka that Mahathir gave Pak Om, and against the backdrop of Proton Holdings Berhad, the Dayabumi Complex, the Putra World Trade Centre, the PLUS North-South Highway, and so on, which all happened around the same time, it is said that in just five years of Mahathir becoming Prime Minister Umno managed to raise no less than RM10 billion in funds for its war chest, which was parked under nominees and proxies.
If you see the way Mahathir ousted Hussein Onn, by using Sulaiman Palestin as the proxy to take on the Prime Minister, that is precisely the same method he is using in his attempt to oust Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak — by using Muhyiddin as the proxy to take on the Prime Minister.
And the second point to note is that as soon as Mahathir became Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to raise money for Umno’s war chest. And he launched so many projects to meet that objective.
By the time Mahathir retired, Umno was estimated to have around RM100-200 billion in cash and assets, but all parked under nominees and proxies. When Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over and refused to ‘follow orders’, Mahathir held back that money, forcing Abdullah to ask his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, his son, Kamal, Patrick Lim, Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan, and so on, to look for the money needed to finance Umno’s activities and the general elections. And then when Abdullah started making deals to get the money to finance the party, Mahathir screamed corruption and abuse of power.
The same thing happened when Najib took over. When Najib did not ‘follow orders’, Mahathir held back the money, forcing Najib to seek the money elsewhere. And this pissed off Mahathir who thought that Najib would come running back to him (instead of going elsewhere for the money) and then Najib would be made to do what Mahathir wants before the money is handed over.
Mahathir is clearly a creature of habit and extremely predictable. He ousted three Prime Ministers and three Deputy Prime Ministers (and is now trying to oust the current Prime Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister). He also held back all funds to his successors unless they do what he commands. And he uses proxies to fight his wars and to attack his enemies.
What was that saying about a leopard never changes its spots?
Mahathir understands power and understands how the power game or the game of thrones is played plus he understands that the attaining or retention of power requires money. After all, Mahathir invented the game when he closed down Umno and set up a new party, which he deviously also named Umno in 1988.
Mahathir also understands that power dies with you unless you can create a dynasty and transfer power to your descendants. Power, like everything else in life, has an expiry date. It expires when you expire. However, if you create a dynasty, then power becomes perpetual — but just as long as your dynasty remains.
And that was the plan in 2009, not long after Najib took over as Prime Minister. The Mahathir dynasty was supposed to have been created that year in 2009. And Najib, the new Prime Minister, was supposed to have helped with that.
The Abdullah Badawi era had ended and with that it also meant that Khairy Jamaluddin’s political career was going to end. And Mukhriz Mahathir would take over as the new Umno Youth Leader. But that did not happen and this news report explains it all:
Khairy Jamaluddin has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by winning the much-coveted UMNO Youth chief tonight. He bagged 304 votes and won with a majority 50 against Mohd Khir Toyo (254) and Mukhriz Mahathir (232).
In a battle touted to be between the scions of top two political families, the son-in-law of outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has beaten Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former premier Mahathir. Mukhriz could be seen being consoled by his supporters, while Khairy emerged jubilant where he was hugged by well-wishers. While Mukhriz sportingly went on stage to congratulate Khairy after the official announcement was made, Khir Toyo was missing.
Note that the news report said: Khairy Jamaluddin has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. This means Khairy was supposed to have lost but instead he won. And this is the crux to the whole matter. Why was Khairy supposed to lose and how come he won instead?
Khairy won by just 304 votes or a majority of 50 votes against Khir Toyo and Mukhriz in a three-corner contest. If Najib had instructed Khir Toyo to back down and allow it to be a one-on-one contest between Khairy and Mukhriz, then Mukhriz instead of Khairy would have won — at least that is what Mahathir believes.
As punishment for what Khir Toyo did — turning the Umno Youth leadership into a three-corner contest — the following year Mahathir ask MACC Chief Abu Kassim Mohamed to arrest and charge Khir Toyo for corruption after clearing him of corruption three years earlier in 2007.
Yes, just like in the case of another Selangor Menteri Besar, Harun Idris, was Khir Toyo really jailed for corruption or as revenge for not listening to ‘certain people’ who wanted power?
Anyway, Najib could have ordered Khir Toyo to back down and make way for Mukhriz to become the Umno Youth Leader by threatening him (Khir Toyo) with arrest on the case they closed in 2007 — and reopened in 2010 after he (Khir Toyo) kacau daun and cost Mukhriz his Umno Youth Leader’s post. But Najib did not. And Mahathir blames Najib for his son’s loss and the shattered dreams of creating the Mahathir dynasty.
And that was when Mahathir began to perceive Najib as an enemy and not as an ally.
After missing the Umno Youth leadership post in 2009, Mukhriz tried for a ‘double-promotion’ by going for one of the three Umno Vice Presidents’ posts in 2013. And this was the result of that contest:
1. Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (188 divisional votes/ 94,562 ballots)
2. Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (177 divisional votes/ 82,252 ballots)
3. Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (101 divisional votes/ 56,604 ballots)
4. Datuk Mukhriz Tun Mahathir (93 divisional votes/ 57,189 ballots)
Again Mahathir felt that Mukhriz would have won, at the very least third spot, had Najib’s cousin, Hishammuddin, backed down and made way for him. And all Najib had to do was to tell Hishammuddin to make way for Mukhriz but he did not.
So, in 2009 Najib did not ask Khir Toyo to make way for Mukhriz and in 2013 Najib also did not ask Hishammuddin to make way for Mukhriz. Two failed attempts to create the Mahathir dynasty and both times Najib is to blame.
So now it is no longer possible to create the Mahathir dynasty by making Mukhriz the Deputy Prime Minister and then the Prime Minister. And this Mahathir dynasty can no longer be created within Umno considering that Mukhriz has been sacked from the party. The only way the Mahathir dynasty is going to happen is for Mahathir to form a new party and then use this new party to oust Umno and take over Putrajaya.
And that is the reason why Mahathir’s new all-Malay party, Pribumi, was created. It is so that Pribumi can oust Umno and then Mukhriz can replace Najib as Malaysia’s Prime Minister. And you cannot blame Mahathir for this. They did try in 2009 and again in 2013 but both times Najib did not help Mukhriz. So now it has to be done outside Umno and Umno has to be ousted with Najib alongside it so that the Mahathir dynasty can be created.
But is this not about 1MDB? Is not the reason Najib must be ousted because of 1MDB? If you believe that then you also probably believe that I am still a virgin. Only stupid people will believe that Najib needs to be ousted because of 1MDB and not because Mahathir is sore that his plan to create the Mahathir dynasty was thwarted in 2009 and again in 2013, and that he blames Najib for this.
When Mukhriz first contested the Umno Youth leadership in 2009 and an Umno Vice President’s post in 2013, Najib’s Boffin Boys already saw what Mahathir was trying to do — which was to create the Mahathir dynasty. And this meant Mukhriz must become the Deputy Prime Minister after 2013 and the Prime Minister after 2018. And for that to happen Najib has to be brought down just like Mahathir brought down Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Abdullah Badawi.
And this would be just like the story about helping the scorpion cross the river on your back to avoid getting drowned — after which the scorpion would sting you and you die mainly because it is the nature of scorpions to sting you, even if you help it in times of need.
And Najib’s Boffin Boys saw this because Mahathir has a history of using people for personal gain after which he would treat them as collateral damage and throw them under the bus. So, if you do not help Mahathir he will kill you and if you help him he will also kill you. In this case he wants you to help his son rise and then he will still kill you because you are going to be an obstacle for his son’s rise.
So Najib had to play a very clever game here. This was all about power and the creation of the Mahathir dynasty. And in this type of game you do not play Kungfu. You do not even play Silat. You play Taichi by allowing your adversary to make all the moves and you just silently avoid those moves without hitting back and by letting your adversary make mistakes and shoot himself in his own foot.
And this was why for two years from 2013 to 2015 Najib did nothing and said nothing. The silence was so deafening that many began to wonder whether Najib was sleeping or whether he was at a loss as to what to do.
Najib, however, knew precisely what he was doing by doing nothing. In fact, doing nothing is doing something. For example, when you see someone beat up another person and you do nothing, you are actually doing something. You are allowing one person to beat up another person.
So Najib sat back for two years and just watched. Mahathir first raised one issue and then another. Finally Mahathir decided that 1MDB is his weapon of choice and he focused all his attacks on 1MDB. And while Mahathir expected Najib to come out and explain 1MDB, Najib did nothing. And this upset Mahathir even more because, unless Najib engages him, he will have very little to throw back. In the end Mahathir will merely be shadow boxing and this is not quite what he wanted.
For Najib, however, showing respect to your predecessor is considered common courtesy and Malay adat. Even if Mahathir attacks him he should not attack back. If not then Najib would be seen as kurang ajar and very un-Malay. And Mahathir made the mistake of taking this as a weakness. And when you think your enemy is weak you underestimate him and you start making mistakes because you think you have the upper hand.
And this was when Mahathir began to make many mistakes. He began to show that this was all about power and about his frustration at being blocked from creating the Mahathir dynasty. When Mahathir began teaming up with Umno’s enemies and with those who in the past had condemned him, it showed even more that he really did not have Umno’s interest at heart like he had earlier claimed.
And now he openly says that Umno needs to be destroyed and the government handed over to the DAP-led Pakatan Harapan. And that, as the saying goes, is the straw that broke the camel’s back. There is no longer any doubt in anyone’s mind that this is not about saving Malaysia or saving Umno but about creating the Mahathir dynasty with his son as the next Prime Minister.
Mahathir was applying the rules of politics in this game of thrones. Najib, however, knew that the rules of politics cannot be applied and instead you need to play by different rules. Conventional warfare does not work in an unconventional environment. And you must do what people expect you to not do in unconventional situations.
Many people were aghast when Najib removed Muhyiddin and replaced him with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, or when Najib removed the Attorney General. These were all moves everyone not only thought Najib would never make but should not make.
These are very un-political moves and extremely unconventional and many predicted they would backfire. But the moves did not backfire and on hindsight everyone says the moves were actually quite brilliant.
In early 2015 Najib appeared to be losing the battle. Many would not dare predict that Najib would still be Prime Minister in the second half of 2015. Najib’s silence strengthened the perception that he has lost the battle and that is why he remains silent. Then, in July 2015, Najib made his moves that caught everyone, even Mahathir, by surprise.
Now Najib’s critics say he is actually a very brilliant politician. This is the side of Najib they have never seen before and they are wondering how it could have remained hidden for so long. Some even suspect that Najib’s Boffin Boys, whoever they may be, had a hand in charting this strategy. Whatever it may be the battle has ended and it is game over for Mahathir.
Now Mahathir’s only option is to promote his own party, Pribumi, and try to use that party to oust Umno and take over the government. Only then can the DAP-led Pakatan Harapan form the new government with his son, Mukhriz, as Prime Minister.
But then that is a tall order indeed and if that is the only option left open to Mahathir then his dreams of creating the Mahathir dynasty is as good as shattered. The creation of Pribumi as the tool to destroy Umno was the worst move Mahathir could have made. But then when someone is so desperate and has lost all hope they tend to make mistakes.
And this was Najib’s greatest move ever and one which will be remembered for a long time to come. Instead of destroying Mahathir, Najib just sat back and allowed Mahathir to destroy himself. So Najib remained a proper Malay right up to the very end while Mahathir’s frustration caused him to make silly move after silly move until he dug a deep hole and lowered himself into it.
Today, even Mahathir reluctantly agrees that Najib has become more powerful than he was last year. And Mahathir agrees that it would take a huge effort to oust Najib and Umno from power. Mahathir actually said that it would be an uphill battle for the opposition to oust Umno or Barisan Nasional.
So why is Mahathir still trying if he knows it cannot be done? Well, Mahathir has no choice. If he stops now that is more or less admitting defeat. So, to save face, he needs to keep hitting as if the game is not over yet. But it is game over and Mahathir knows it. But there is no harm in pretending that you are still in the game in the hope that Najib phones you and suggests a meeting where a deal can be made that includes your son as the next Deputy Prime Minister and possible future Prime Minister after Najib.