Politics and Policy: Najib and the ratings game

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 21, 2019 - January 27, 2019.
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IT is said that by joining the campaign trail in Cameron Highlands, Datuk Seri Najib Razak is anticipating a boost in his personal ratings should Barisan Nasional win the by-election. The plan appears to be well-calculated. If there is a victory, Najib can take credit for it. The chances for that win to happen are quite bright. If not for anything else, then it is because Cameron Highlands has been a BN stronghold for years. And probably that is one reason for BN to allow its former chairman to appear there.

Remember the Seri Setia by-election last September? Back then, it was reported that Najib was advised by his party not to campaign for BN. This was due to the baggage he was carrying, which was detrimental for the coalition in the Sungai Kandis by-election held earlier and where he had hit the campaign trail.

In short, Najib was partly blamed for Umno/BN’s defeat in Sungai Kandis. Hence, the advice to stay away from Seri Setia although Umno/BN sat it out, making way for PAS, its ally. Incidentally, PAS lost to the Pakatan Harapan candidate.

As for the Cameron Highlands campaign, Najib, although eyeing a boost in his ratings, is also risking a further plunge in the event of a BN defeat. If that happens, he will be blamed for the loss of a seat that the coalition had held for years. His baggage will be brought up again as a point of contention. The baggage, as we know, involves accusations of corruption, kleptocracy and a host of other things.

However, former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is Najib’s cousin, thinks the many court cases against Najib are not a deterrent for him to campaign in Cameron Highlands.

As Hishammuddin sees it, Najib, being anak Pahang or a son of Pahang, is still highly regarded by the people of the state.

Apart from Cameron Highlands, Najib has also been doing the rounds in the Klang Valley, holding town hall sessions, meeting the people and vowing to help the poor — prompting news portal The Malaysian Insight to say that after 39 criminal charges, Najib still has fans.

And the man himself said recently that “many people miss my leadership”. A veteran journalist says the remark was stretching it and he was sure “the rakyat had a good laugh on hearing it”. Another journalist sees Najib as being “still in denial”.

So, why is Najib doing all this? To political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and who had worked for Najib previously, the former prime minister “just wants to be visible and stay relevant”.

A few days ago, Najib took to Facebook (again) and posted a picture of himself at a meeting with three Umno top guns, namely Hishammuddin, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

Technically, Zahid is still Umno president as he has merely passed on the duties of president to Mohamad. So, Mohamad, or Tok Mat as he is known in Umno, is the deputy president carrying out the duties of president.

Hishammuddin has now resurfaced after being under the radar for quite some time. He was accused of engineering the exodus of lawmakers from Umno, which he has denied. A picture of him and his family vacationing in Turkey last month with PKR’s Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, who was also with his family, not only raised many an eyebrow but also triggered all sorts of speculation.

Both Hishammuddin and Azmin have called on people not to read too much into the picture, claiming that they had bumped into each other in Turkey.

Anyway, let’s get back to the picture Najib posted on Facebook. The caption accompanying it read: “We are united for the sake of the party, the nation and the nation’s future.”

Bear in mind that not too long ago Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam had proposed that Najib be made de facto party leader and federal opposition head.

Najib declined, saying that he wanted to focus on clearing his name with regard to the criminal charges he is facing in court.

But that was then. Is there a change of heart now?

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang points this out. At a recent so-called meet-the-supporters session in Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur, Najib was introduced as “a prime minister on vacation”.

To Lim, what Najib is doing now is to try to legitimise his actions with a political comeback through a BN victory in the Cameron Highlands by-election.

Najib’s aides did not want to respond to my query or react to Lim’s take on the matter. Not even to justify their boss’s strategy. A pity, really.

Obviously, we will have to go by what others are saying about Najib’s plan.


Mohsin Abdullah is contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for more than four decades.  


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