Dr M’s criticism won’t shake Najib, say analysts

-A +A

(September 17): Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's continued attacks on Datuk Seri Najib Razak will not succeed in toppling the prime minister, said analysts, because there is no one else capable of holding the top job.

They added that Najib's Cabinet and Umno colleagues, together with Umno daily Utusan Malaysia, have also rallied to defend him against Dr Mahathir's stinging criticisms last month that stopped short of asking for the prime minister's resignation.

Political observer Khoo Kay Peng said unlike the case of former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, there are no obvious suitable leaders that can take over from Najib now.

"In Pak Lah's case, it was clear that Najib is the obvious successor," he said, referring to Abdullah by his popular moniker.

"But currently, I don't see any person who can takeover from Najib. Unlike the last time, this time there are no push factors," he added.

Following internal pressures, Abdullah quit as prime minister and Umno president in April 2009, a year after the ruling Barisan Nasional's (BN) poor showing in the watershed 12th general election where it lost its customary two-thirds federal majority and Najib took over the posts.

Dr Mahathir, who started criticising Abdullah in 2006, recently wrote in his popular blog that he was withdrawing support for the Najib administration as many of his criticisms had fallen on deaf ears and that he disagreed with the prime minister's current policies, although he had said he did not want Najib to quit.

In his latest tirade against Najib, Dr Mahathir had told Malay NGO, Ikhlas, this week of his fear that BN would lose the next general election if Najib continued to be the prime minister.

"Tun (Dr) Mahathir was quite clear on this. He is firm in his stand that he is not in favour of PM. He said BN may lose GE14 if Najib continues to rule," Ikhlas president Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah had told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

While Dr Mahathir is trying to achieve something – and the jury's still out on what exactly he wants by his continuing criticisms against Najib – any changes of leadership can only be effected within Umno and right now, there is no such move, Khoo noted.

"Currently, not many people are willing to do so because Najib is giving them, including right wing elements, a lot of room," said the independent analyst.

Putrajaya is currently on a sedition blitz against opposition leaders, a journalist, an academician, activists and two Muslim preachers, which critics had charged are an attempt to silent dissent.

Critics have also questioned why certain right wing groups and politicians who had made more seditious remarks in the past had escaped the sedition dragnet.

However, Dr Arnold Puyok felt that Dr Mahathir's tirade is evidence of a statesman who is unwilling to see Malaysia moving away from the legacy he built in his 22 years as prime minister.

"Dr Mahathir is not yet willing to see Malaysia moving away from 'Mahathirism'. Najib is attempting to change the country and in the process he is dismantling Mahathir's entrenched influence in the system," said the head of International Relations and Politics department at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

Despite the country's longest-serving prime minister's continued sniping, Arnold is confident that it would not have any impact on Najib.

"The reactions of party leaders towards Dr Mahathir's past and latest tirade against Najib show that the PM has the support of Umno."

In echoing Arnold's views, political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun said Dr Mahathir's remarks might appeal to the right wing elements in Umno since Najib has been portraying himself as a moderate progressive leader since he took over the premiership.

However, Oh noted that Najib also needed the right wing support to solidify his position and this resulted in his wavering stand on ground-shaking policies like easing affirmative action policies and repealing the Sedition Act.

"Since GE13, Umno right wing has been in the ascendence, perhaps thinking that they could seize the opportunity to advance their agenda and in Dr Mahathir, they found a willing collaborator.

"However, clearer and pragmatic heads in Umno will continue to rally around Najib," said the analyst from Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.