by Nawawi Mohamad
How do you feel when someone keeps breathing down your neck, nagging, criticizing and meddling with your work right from the day you start work?
Yes, Mahathir or Dr M the former prime minister – hard as nails and some say ruthlessness personified – who defeated all other pretenders to his throne including Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh and Anwar Ibrahim.
Dr M also removed Abdullah Badawi from power even though he had handpicked Badawi to succeed him. And this was how Najib came to power – given the green light from Mahathir to replace Badawi..Well, if you want to know, ‘tanya Najib’. Yes, ask Prime Minister Najib Razak because that must be how he is feeling all this while. And worse still, the person doing the heavy breathing is not Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu or wife Rosmah Mansor but Mahathir Mohamad!
Yes, the old man was that powerful. Remember Tun Salleh Abas who was unceremoniously sacked as Chief Judge. Even the Malay Rulers lost their immunity against prosecution! It was then that dazzled by his own power, Mahathir began ruling the country like his own property, arbitrarily helping his sons and cronies to amass wealth beyond imagination.
By comparison Najib, and for that matter Badawi too, have not been able to match the mega structures built by Mahathir, such as the still half-full office blocks at the Petronas Twin Towers, the money-swallowing F1 Circuit, the far from perfect Putrajaya and the ever rising tolls for using our highways.
Up till now, Najib has failed to eke out any real or lasting transformation programs despite having the gall and vanity to encourage the people to call him Bapa Transformasi or the Father of Transformation!
However, in gravy train department, neither Najib nor Badawi have been slouches. While they may not be able to drive the gravy train as well Mahathir and his sons, they too have supped and feasted well on the largesse that comes with near absolute power.
Fed up of Dr M’s backseat driving
About to begin his second term as PM – if he is not thrown out as Umno president in the party’s elections later this year – there are signs Najib is now fed up with being in Mahathir’s shadow. He wants to be his own man but is not sure how. He wants to claim his own right as the elected Prime Minister, but is afraid Mahathir might get upset and squash him to death like a pesky fly.
No wonder Najib is feeling peeved and rather insecure with all the recent talk of removing him from power in UMNO and taking out a no-confidence vote against him in Parliament. Obviously, Najib must feel he must do something and do it fast.
He probably reckons his trump card was leading UMNO/BN to win the 13th general election. Whether it was by hook or by crook, UMNO-BN has won and UMNO has the biggest number of seats – 88 out of 133 to boot. To him, this took place at a time when the country has not been doing too well in every aspect; UMNO was in big trouble due to its never-ending infighting and scandals, while the BN component parties were in shambles too. Above all, the Opposition was the strongest ever. Could Mahathir win the GE-13 or for that matter all the previous elections if faced with the same problems?
And from here, the seed grows, a bulb suddenly lights up for Najib. Why not stand up to Mahathir and then inherit all the devious and lucrative ramifications already set up by the older man.
Of course for now, Najib and strategists will try to walk silently like Ninjas, delivering the killer blow when they are ready and without Mahathir even realising it. But wily old fox as he is, Mahathir may already be two steps ahead in this cloak-and-dagger game that he excels in.
Right time, right place
Mahathir was fortunate to be at the right place in the right time when the world’s economic growth was at its peak. Malaysia had lots of funds and needed infrastructure development while the Opposition was divided! Of course there were two economic recessions, but Malaysia still had the resources and national was nowhere near the record level it now is.
Yes, Mahathir can boast that he did it his way but what about replaying the script today amid the current shortage of funds, which has forced Najib has to consider imposing the unpopular GST?
Within UMNO, the camps are divided. Some say that there are reasons for Najib to be removed from power, but there are just as many who think he deserves a second chance.
This is what Najib is banking on. His strategists and media are playing it to hilt- from trying to win him sympathy and making him appear the ‘good guy’ to Mahathir’s ‘bad guy’, they are going for broke.
But how strong are Najib’s chances of retaining the UMNO presidency and premiership? With Mahathir’s help – which would mean Najib and the rest of the country would have to endure the old’s man bullying and bitching for another 5 years till the next GE – it is certain he will be able to maintain his positions.
The question is – what about without Mahathir? Can Najib take on other Umno rivals who are supported by Mahathir from behind the scenes for whatever Machiavellian reasons that Mahathir has? Chances are that in such an event, Najib would have to retire real early.
Could this be why Najib’s camp bizarrely leaked false news that he was to meet with Anwar in Jakarta? Was Najib trying to tell Mahathir, ‘hey, if you want fo fight, OK I too have a smoking gun!’ Or was Najib merely trying to play ‘good guy’ to Mahathir’s ‘bad guy’? When one considers the enormity of the implications, which would involve a unity government, chances are higher Najib was trying to tell Mahathir he can also play hard ball.
Then what’s next? Face it, for those who hope for national reconciliation, it definitely won’t come from Najib who can be expected to want the same unquestioned power that Mahathir wielded.
Anwar was just a means to an end. In any case, given Anwar’s mega popularity, he is too risky a rival for Najib to strike a deal with. Already, Anwar has won himself the tag of being the ‘People’s Prime Minister’ – something that Najib cannot be too happy about!
So what else can Najib do?
Well, he can just ignore Mahathir but this will only make Mahathir more determined to keep nagging and interfering. Not to mention, insisting on taking the driver’s seat on the UMNO gravy train. Which perhaps Rosmah might also want.
Najib can also ask his supporters to confront or counter attack Mahathir but Mahathir has instructed his supporters to do the same against Najib. Yes, Mahathir’s son Mukhriz – the newly-minted Kedah Mentri Besar – has said he will back Najib to remain as PM and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin to stay as DPM. But remember, nothing is cast in stone and Mahathir is the master of last-minute sleights of hand!
In short, Najib will have to use all available ways to fight Mahathir. In the coming weeks and months to the UMNO internal election, Malaysians can expect ‘movie’ after ‘movie’, ‘drama’ after ‘drama’ although most of these will tend to be either disaster flicks or outrageous comedies.
After all Mahathir has so many ways and resources at his disposal. And he is so experienced in this type of guerilla warfare. Not to mention, former sidekick Daim Zainuddin is never to far away to offer diabolical schemes and plots if the need really arises to evict the Najibs from Putrajaya.
Finally, Najib can also seek the help of some ’bomohs‘ (spell casters) as he was previously reported to have done to secure the PM’s post. Rosmah too is watching like a hawk. After all she stands to lose all the status, the kow-towing, the glamor, the charging of expenses to the PM’s Office, as well as spending public cash if Najib is ousted.
Will Najib survive or bite the dust
So will Najib be ousted? And who will replace him? Will it be Razaleigh but does he really have enough support to win a no-confidence vote against Najib when Parliament convenes later this month? At this point in time, there is more doubt than confidence that the Kelantan prince will finally get to achieve his dream of becoming PM.
“Ku Li will need Mahathir’s support, that’s for sure. But will Mahathir forgive and forget so easily? We think it is not impossible but only if Najib makes a wrong move and gets Mahathir all uptight and worried. Two desperate men, and I mean Ku Li and Dr M, can easily defeat Najib but how desperate is Dr M to form an alliance with Ku Li,” a political source told Malaysia Chronicle.
Or will Najib’s replacement be Muhyiddin? Yes, Muhyiddin lacks charisma but a lot of those who have worked with him says he is capable of reasonable output. With Home Minister Zahid Hamidi roped in to provide the charm (Umno-style anyway), Muhyiddin cannot be written off. But a dark horse, he will remain.
So, by and large, these are the players. As the drama staged by the Najib camp unfolds and is countered and feinted by his rivals, Malaysians can look forward to a lot of laughs in the weeks ahead. Intrigue is set to bust the UMNO ceiling!