14Ogos2020

Agenda Daily

BAPTISM OF FIRE

Prime Minister-in-Waiting Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak will hardly have a minute to breathe easy when he takes over the premiership of the country. He has much to do to placate the rakyat. He has to rise to the occasion.

 

ON MARCH 25, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY opening the annual assemblies of Umno's Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, appealed to the delegates to elect leaders of high integrity, capability, dedication and loyalty.

Using the Arabic term saf, which, in the local usage, refers to the line of men and women in prayer, he told them that he would need such a line-up to rule effectively.

At first glance, he did get it. His undeclared running mate, International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin easily beat the surviving challenger, Rural and Regional Development Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib. He obtained 1,575 votes against Muhammad Taib's 916 for the Deputy President's post.

The third challenger, Malacca Chief Minister and Vice President Datuk Seri Ali Rustam, was barred from contesting after being found guilty of money politics by the party's Disciplinary Board.

The three new Vice Presidents are Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (1,592 votes), Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (1,515) and Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister, Sabahan Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (1,445).

The shocker was the victory of the money politics offender, the Rembau Member of Parliament, Khairy Jamaluddin, as Youth Chief a day earlier. He resoundingly defeated the favourite, the Jerlun Member of Parliament Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir.

Mukhriz came nowhere near to winning the seat despite having obtained the highest nominations from the divisions under three months ago.

Even former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo, who had made significant progress in recent weeks, came in a distant second.

Khairy, who is Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's son-in-law, was found guilty of money politics by the Disciplinary Board on March 17. But unlike Mohd Ali, he was let off with only a warning, purportedly because the offence was lighter.

His election is a clear manifestation of the degree of corruption and immorality of a large segment of the movement's delegates and an affront to the party's pledge to fight the scourge of money politics.

The outcome of the youth election suggests that the movement is getting further and further away from the aspirations of its ordinary members, who, via their divisional assemblies, gave Mukhriz 71 nominations against Khir's 54 and Khairy's 51.

But the delay in holding the party's general assembly and election, which was originally scheduled for December, gave Khairy the time to use money to buy support as was established by the Disciplinary Board.

But Khairy's running mate and an Abdullah stalwart, Datuk Reezal Merican Naina Merican, was defeated by the up-and-coming young Johor leader, Muar Member of Parliament Datuk Ghazali Ibrahim.

Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil's easy victory over Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz in the women's wing contest was not unexpected. The latter had made a major tactical mistake by announcing her plan to retire as Wanita Chief in the middle of last year and yet insisting on defending her post.

The women's delegates were right in voting for Shahrizat. Doing the opposite would have caused the movement to be without a leader if and when Rafidah retires. In that situation, Shahrizat can only act as leader until the next party election in 2011.

Although Shahrizat is less forceful and less experienced than the highly capable Rafidah, she benefits from the presence of Datuk Kamilia Ibrahim, a senior lawyer and well-known activist. Kamilia wasnot challenged as Deputy Head.

The outcome of the election should afford Mohd Najib some room to manoeuvre in selecting his team. But he has to be wary of the possibility of some council members being disqualified later if found guilty of money politics.

He has to be willing to take a risk in offending some victors by excluding those with questionable backgrounds from his Cabinet line-up and from other key government appointments.

It does not serve Umno's purpose, particularly in the pursuance of the Malay-related agenda, to appoint too many council members to the government.

He has to maintain a visible dichotomy between Umno as the dominant member of the ruling coalition and as a Malay party. Some members of the Supreme Council are better suited to pursue the latter than to hold government posts.

The more difficult task is to convince ordinary Umno members and the Malays at large that Umno is mending its ways, especially when money politics offenders still hold sway.

Wining over the people

IF Mohd Najib can immediately show the difference between his rule and that of his redecessor, his chances of winning over the people are good.

Abdullah is notorious for not being able to stick to time and for not keeping alert at

meetings. His recent gaffe over the so-called border agreement with Brunei was typical of his inability to grasp and articulate complex issues.

Early in his administration, I wrote about the need for Abdullah to have a time-driven office.

All that Mohd Najib has to do in the minutes and hours after being sworn-in is to show to the people that time is precious and office discipline is important. He can't afford to have people milling around his office hoping for unscheduled appointments.

In fact, to any good Muslim, time equals to God because no matter where he or she is, that person has to be aware of the time for the five-daily prayers.

So, it makes a whole lot of difference to the people whether, upon being sworn-in as Prime Minister, he goes home to his loving wife or to the office to attend to urgent state matters.

For a start, there's not going to be a honeymoon period for Mohd Najib. In fact, there shouldn't be ahoneymoon period of any kind for any member of his government. Work starts immediately to plug the leaks in the government and the party.

He is not likely to be accorded the kind of love and affection that `Mr Clean' and `Mr Nice' Abdullah had received when he became Prime Minister in 2003.

So, the most reasonable thing for Mohd Najib to do is to get on with the running of the country, especially nurturing greater confidence in his economic stimulus packages.

The people are not amused with political jingoism either of the ruling coalition or of the People's Alliance or Pakatan Rakyat at a time when their livelihood is at stake.

The people's response to his first few days will be seen almost instantaneously in the form of the outcomes of three by-elections to be held on April 7.

The BN may not win all the three constituencies but an improvement in the votes is a good enough indication for his fledgling leadership.

Pakatan Rakyat is aware of this. That's the reason some of their key leaders – the likes of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang - were keen to see Abdullah staying on even temporarily.

They know that with Abdullah around and Umno in a state of uncertainty, they will stand a better chance of replicating their stunning by-election successes in Permatang Pauh last August and Kuala Terengganu in January in the three upcoming by-elections.

Conversely, they know that if Abdullah steps down before the by-elections, the chances of the BN improving its appeal among the voters will improve.

Pushing for success

THE saving grace for Umno and the National Front is the fact that the Pakatan Rakyat has its fair share of problems.

While the long-established Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (Pas) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) are generally in good shape, the fledgling Parti Keadilan Rakyat has been hit by a series of controversies.

The defections of two of its State Assemblymen and another from the DAP precipitated the fall of the Perak People Alliance's government in early February.

Prior to defecting, the two PKR Assemblymen were being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. They have since been charged with corruption.

This was followed on Feb 6 by the resignation of PKR's State Assemblyman for Bukit Selambau, Kedah, V Arumugam, over matrimonial matters. In last year's general election, Arumugam contested as an independent and later joined PKR.

Eleven days later, on Feb 17, its State Assemblywoman for Bukit Lanjan, Selangor, Elizabeth Wong, announced her resignation after nude photographs of her were circulated on the Internet, allegedly by her ex-lover and an import officer of the party, identified as Hilmi Malek, 32. A warrant of arrest has since been issued on him.

Then, on March 21, it was announced by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng that his PKR Deputy Chief Minister i, Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, would resign effective April 8, purportedly to pursue his masters degree.

He was linked to an allegation by a PKR member that senior state officials were involved in covering up illegal quarrying activities in the state.

On March 26, Mohammad Fairus was picked up at the Johor Baru Customs Immigration and Quarantine complex (CIQ) by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officers to be questioned over the allegations. He was questioned for three hours before being released.

Solving these moral related cases poses a major challenge to the PKR as it unashamedly took the moral high ground in the last general election.

Since then, however, even its supreme leader Anwar has been charged with sodomy.

The goings-on in the PKR have hardly amused the DAP and Pas. They will, however, tolerate the PKR for as long as their chances of clinging on to power in the states that they rule are not too badly jeopardised.

The outcomes of the coming three by-elections will indicate if these negative developments will have an effect on Pakatan Rakyat.

For Mohd Najib, the by-elections and the deteriorating economic situation are the baptism of fire that he cannot avoid but ones that may work to his benefit after all.

All that he has to do is retain the BN's Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak and reduce the victory margins of Pakatan Rakyat in Bukit Selambau and the parliamentary seat of Bukit Gantang, Perak, and to be more convincing in the implementation of the economic stimulus packages.

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