Opinion: Rumors of Malaysian PM’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated
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Opinion: Rumors of Malaysian PM’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated

THE Sarawak Report a couple of days ago released a damning report on the 1MDB scandal, the murder of Kevin Morais, and stated that Malaysia’s premier Najib Razak is planning to retreat from office.

According to the report, several sources have indicated that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) report on the 1MDB scandal to Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali recommend no less than 37 charges against Najib, something the MACC has denied.

The Sarawak Report, which is blocked in Malaysia, also inferred that Kevin Morais was kidnapped and brutally murdered because he was involved in the original investigation of the 1MDB and ‘political donation’ scandals, and was responsible for drawing up charges against Najib on behalf of sacked Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail.

The report went on to say that Najib received much more than RM2.6 billion (US$595 million) into his personal bank accounts. The account by Sarawak Report also stated that most of these funds were not used to fight the last election, but rather used for personal affairs, such as shopping trips and credit card payments. According to the report, most of these funds were transferred into Najib’s personal accounts in Singapore.

The article goes on to say that there were a number of meetings between members of the top echelons of UMNO over the new year break in New York, Tokyo, and Dubai, where the departure of Najib from the prime minister’s position was discussed.

The report added that there were three issues preventing Najib’s immediate departure.

Najib can see things out and maybe even win the next election due in 2018.

First, there is the issue of succession to Najib. According to the report the current deputy Prime Minister Zahid wants the position, but former deputy Muhuddin Yassin is still deputy president of UMNO and the natural successor.

Second, Najib and his wide Rosnah want immunity from prosecution and a ‘royal goodbye’ on departure from office. Many UMNO stalwarts now want to see both of them in jail, the report comments.

Third, with international investigations underway about the financial scandals it is very difficult to find a ‘safe haven’ for Najib. According to the Sarawak Report, Turkey has rejected possible asylum, as has most of the Middle East. Kazakhstan is also off the list.

The Sarawak Report article goes into some detail about how the upper echelons of UMNO were very dissatisfied at being lied to and are seeking Najib’s removal.  This issue has been taken up by both the Asia Sentinel and Malaysian Chronicle, which posted a number of articles about how Najib is facing his final days in office.

Enter Malaysia Today, the blog run by Raja Petra kamarudin. Many have claimed that he has changed sides and under the influence of Rosmah, wife of premier Najib. Malaysia Today was once the bastion of news for the opposition in Malaysia until, as many claim, the slant changed to defending Najib against former PM Mahathir Mohamad.

MahathirMohamadFront

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Pic: AP.

However Raja Petra made a number of valid points about Claire Rewcastle Brown and the agenda of Sarawak Report, maybe enough to discredit the ‘bombshell’ released a few days before.

To seek clarity in this propaganda war, one must look on the ground.

Yes, Najib has been under siege with the 1MDB and ‘political donation’ scandals. His biggest critic has been Mahathir. However, he has not been able to make any dents in Najib’s armour.

To date Najib has withstood, by various methods and manoeuvres, government investigations, the UMNO Annual General Meeting, and backlashes from within his own party. He is surrounded by a cadre of loyal ministers. From this perspective, Najib can see things out and maybe even win the next election due in 2018. Other Baris Nasional components are relatively quiet.

However, the arms of international law are drawing closer, the Malaysian economy is quickly slipping, the people are beginning to suffer in everyday life with rapid increases in the cost of living as the Ringgit is falling drastically. Najib has also needed to repress freedom of speech to maintain his position which is beginning to stretch the system into a position where order could break down. A backlash within the grassroots of UMNO cannot be kept down forever.

So what should we believe today?

If Najib is about to flee from office and be brought down by his own party apparatus, then why is Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former Prime Minister Mahathir, under threat from his own party today?

According to reports in the Malaysian Insider, 14 out of 36 UMNO divisions want him replaced as chief minister immediately.

UMNO is not united against Najib, as Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and Malaysia Chronicle all suggest. Second, there are perhaps great divisions within UMNO, but even so, Najib still exercises great power within the party organization. Third, Najib’s departure from the Malaysian political scene may not be so fast as many in the media are predicting.

What happens within the Malaysian political scene over the next few months will be very interesting.