Monday, March 30, 2009

Najib's Underhand Tactics Now Can Be Used Openly


YESTERDAY was Nomination Day for three by-elections scattered around Malaysia, which will prove a tough test for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Yet, as Malaysia awaits his swearing-in as the next prime minister this Friday, his first moves at the Umno party general assembly last week suggest he may be equal to the huge challenges facing him.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition he will helm has lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, ceded four states to an opposition alliance and - after the gruelling Umno elections - is saddled with unpopular names like Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin in the line-up. Then there's the economic gloom.

Yet even a constant Najib critic like the blogger known as Sakmongkol, a former lawmaker, has acknowledged the new leader made the right moves.

First, in his acceptance speech as Umno chief last Saturday, Datuk Seri Najib projected humility and made no attempt to use his new platform to take potshots at political opponents inside or outside Umno.

Malaysians will like that. Not once, for example, did he mention Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition chief who has been demonising him endlessly.

Second, Mr Najib is trying to bring together former premier Mahathir Mohamad and outgoing leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, saying he was planning a meeting with the two statesmen to bury the hatchet and help him rebuild Umno and BN.

The Mahathir-Abdullah spat is often cited as a key reason for last year's BN elections flop.

Malaysians are also encouraged that their future prime minister seems to be on the ball with regard to the economic meltdown.

Mr Najib announced during the Umno meet that he will launch a website to show the people just how the new RM60 billion (S$25 billion) mini-budget will be sourced and spent.

This shows, one netizen remarked, that Mr Najib cares about being transparent.

There is talk he may engage former finance minister Daim Zainuddin to strengthen Malaysia's ties with other countries.

This should go down well too. The Umno elections have given Mr Najib a line-up of leaders drawn from different corners of Malaysia, giving him a good chance to unify his fractious party as he fights corruption.

Even if BN loses all three by-elections taking place next Tuesday, all the blame won't be heaped upon the new captain at the helm.

And I haven't even mentioned Mr Najib's chance to wow Malaysians with a dazzling Cabinet line-up, which should show how serious - or not - he is about making changes in the government.

Of course, Malaysians will recall that his predecessor also had an excellent start after taking charge in 2003 - before things began falling apart.

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