Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.

Subsidy cuts play into UMNO rebellion, reports Asia Sentinel

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak enters 2014 beset by growing hostility from both the public and within his own political party, the United Malays National Organization, characterized by a deluge of New Year messages across cyberspace celebrating the “year of barang naik,” Malay language for rising prices of items.

That is a play on the initials BN, for Barisan Nasional, the national ruling coalition. It has become an opposition battle cry to the point where Najib mentioned it himself in a recent speech

Najib is making an astute move now, after national and intraparty elections have been completed, taking on the necessary but unappetizing task of dismantling decades of subsidies that have driven government debt close to the statutory limit of 55 percent of gross domestic product. In the wake of both sets of elections, he is temporarily invulnerable to both opposition and intraparty assaults.

However, electricity tariffs have risen by 15 percent, sugar subsidies have been cut. Last September, Petronas, the national energy company, cut fuel subsidies in a move that it said would save the government RMB1 billion annually. Public anger at the cutting of the subsidies is substantial and growing

In addition, many in the party rank and file are still furious over widespread spending to keep the current leadership in place in the September intraparty elections.

That has brought the prime minister under unprecedented attack from bloggers aligned with the wing of the party controlled by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who are delivering an extraordinary onslaught on his lifestyle and that of his wife, even going so far as an unprecedented call for attention to corruption within UMNO itself. The attacks had been expected from the time Najib blocked Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz, from becoming one of the party’s three vice presidents in the September polls.

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