Will Najib be an asset to Umno at GE15?

Answer depends on role he plays in party, how much support he has among electorate

THE question of whether former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will be an asset to Umno at the 15th general election (GE15) needs to be answered in two parts.

First, it will depend on what role he is engaged in at the party level at the time of the polls. Second, it will depend on how much support he still commands among the electorate.

Before that, let’s backtrack a bit. Common wisdom is that Umno will be a force to contend with at GE15 – not because it has reinvented itself and reached new heights, but because of an anticipated electoral pact or alliance with Islamist party PAS, which previously contested against both Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Umno/Barisan Nasional (BN).

And then there was the defection of then Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s and, subsequently, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Bersatu to the dark side alongside Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali’s betrayal of PKR, toppling PH’s short 22-month reign at the top following the May 2018 election (GE14).

This was the long-talked-about Malay unity government that was going to be a formidable force at GE15. But Umno, stung by Bersatu’s dominance in the cabinet and the relegation to a secondary role, wanted more: a general election.

Will Najib be an asset to Umno at GE15? – P. Gunasegaram
In a situation where PH or BN will predominate and fight the battle, where will Datuk Seri Najib Razak be? – PETRA News pic

Muhyiddin reacted with an emergency declaration, pleading Covid-19, effectively keeping him in power as a minority prime minister indefinitely – or, at least, until Covid-19 recedes into the background. Meantime, he buys valuable breathing space, which prevents him from suffocating via a no-confidence vote, given his weakened position.

Tellingly, the much-vaunted Malay unity coalition has just about disintegrated. PAS’ Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is adamantly supporting Muhyiddin and – perhaps paradoxically – also the alliance with Umno.

While it may be easier to settle seat differences between PAS and Umno because of clearer demarcation of power bases, it becomes much more complex and cloudy between Bersatu, Umno and the Azmin faction; some 15 Bersatu MPs defected from Umno, while the Azmin faction brought in nine seats from PKR, according to reports. You can be sure there will be catfights for the seats.

If the PAS/Umno alliance holds, then it will be Bersatu versus Umno/BN versus PH (Amanah and PKR) and Bersatu versus PAS versus PH in many key seats. The mosquito party in this configuration is, of course, Bersatu, which won a mere 13 seats at GE14 – and that, too, by being in the PH coalition. The common consensus is that Bersatu will be wiped out at GE15 – without alliances, that is.

The numbers in the table clearly indicate Bersatu’s continuing lack of strength. The increase in numbers from 13 after GE14 – a poor showing where it won just 25% of seats contested – to 32 was purely due to defections, mainly from Umno and PKR. Umno and PKR’s defections resulted in their numbers falling from 54 to 38 and from 48 to 35, respectively.

A point to note is that the defections centred mainly around Bersatu, Umno and PKR – all parties who had their roots in Umno. The other parties – PAS, its offshoot, Amanah, and DAP – are rock solid and kept their MPs intact. That exemplifies the culture of Umno MPs, past and present, to throw in their lot with the winners, directly leading to the volatility of party fortunes post elections.

Given such a situation, Muhyiddin will try to hold on to power as long as the emergency permits – and, perversely, it is in his interest that the current Covid-19 situation worsens so that he can use that as an excuse to prolong the emergency. He will resist all attempts to end the emergency and allow for elections of any kind.

The so-called ‘bossku’ moniker to describe former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is more often used among the public with derision than with adulation. – AFP pic, May 20, 2021
The so-called ‘bossku’ moniker to describe former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is more often used among the public with derision than with adulation. – AFP pic

But he has just about two years to go, with PN’s term to expire naturally in 2023, and unless he enters into an alliance, Bersatu is pretty much finished. Even if he goes into an alliance, someone else will most likely be prime minister.

In a situation where PH or BN will predominate and fight the battle, where will Najib be? Whichever way things pan out, he would want to be kingmaker. His conviction of crimes related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) makes him ineligible to contest an MP’s seat unless the conviction is set aside.

That will most likely mean that the president’s position in Umno is not open to him either, especially if current legal cases demanding payment from him, in particular by the Inland Revenue Board, lead to him being declared a bankrupt.

That will likely preclude him from being a contestant for the top position at Umno – but can he play the role of kingmaker? Not likely, because he does not have the financial and other resources to throw behind any candidate – and Umno MPs are not known for their loyalty. That makes him toothless, especially since he has no position in government nor any in the party now.

Does he have mass support? How could he when the trials will continue to highlight his association with 1MDB? The so-called “bossku” moniker is more often used with derision among the public than with adulation. He has done too much harm to the country in a very visible way.

Najib will be inconsequential at GE15 – and his so-called support and influence is illusory. If Umno uses him to garner support at the polls, it is likely to backfire – and may even lead to a backlash, considering that Malay support for Umno withered firmly to about a third from over 50% historically under his watch.

The rakyat is not likely to forget or forgive him for his role in 1MDB, which ultimately cost him and Umno GE14. It will be a fatal mistake for Umno – or anyone else – to ally with Najib in the next polls.

By : P. Gunasegaram (Executive director of advocacy and research organisation Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes) – THE VIBES

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