No Honeymoon for new Malaysian PM

Malaysia's opposition has continued its attacks over incoming prime minister Najib Razak's alleged links to the murder of a Mongolian translator.

The allegations are front and centre of its by-election campaign for the parliamentary seat of Perak state, where the opposition candidate is the former state minister who was ousted by Datuk Najib last month. It's one of three by-elections that are seen as a referendum on Datuk Najib's leadership, amid a deepening economic crisis, corruption allegations, and rising political tensions. Mr Najib has promised radical changes but with his popularity the lowest for any incoming leader, how tarnished is his leadership?

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Professor Clive Kessler from the University of New South Wales

KESSLER: I think that it is true, that he comes in without any benefit, he comes in possibly under something of a shadow, there will be no honeymoon, there will be no oomph factor to start with.

McCARTHY: Well this weekend, we saw more than 10,000 opposition supporters taking to the streets and they were singing songs linking Datuk Najib to the murder of Altantuuya. Now there is no evidence for these alleged links and he denies the charges, but regardless of the substance of the allegations, will these questions continue to hang over his prime ministership?

KESSLER: They will in the sense that the issue is not so much about facts, it's about perceptions, or not about any facts other than perceptions which are key political facts. And Najib himself may be as pure as the driven snow, but he is widely seen as being not the cure, the answer to the UMNO's problems, but quite widely among other than government supporters as embodying what is UMNO's problem, its reputation for being high handed, arrogant, and desperately retributive whenever it gets into trouble and Najib is seen to embody, to personify that problem, by many people.

McCARTHY: As for the April 7 by elections in Perak State, to what extent are Najib's dealings in Perak, which saw the Barisan Nasional wrest state power from the opposition, now coming back to haunt him?

KESSLER: Well, we shall see when people go out to vote. The thing is that Najib's succession has been imminent really since the beginning of the year. He's very much closely associated with all developments, including some unfortunate losing by-elections and then this effort to topple the elected government in Perak, which was accomplished by means that are still contested, that are before the courts, that will remain before the courts, that many see as being legally dubious as well as politically damaging and quite predictably I think the opposition party, opposition coalition has put up as its candidate, from the Islamic Party, the man who was the chief minister of Perak, who was ousted from power by means that some people, many people see as unsatisfactory and in a move that even from before it happened was seen, was widely advertised and bruited, announced as Najib's dramatic intervention in Perak politics. So he will have to wear this one.

McCARTHY: Indeed, while it won't change the balance of power, what are the implications if the opposition candidate does win this by-election?

KESSLER: Well, I think we have go to back to say that basically the Malaysian economy is very internationalised, globalised, it's particularly vulnerable to the world economic crisis and has to be focused on that. If the country is not focused on that, that's already a problem. It needs a government of enormous capability, credibility and authority. So far as economics are concerned, the new team Najib and Muhyiddin and other people around him have I believe genuine economic experience, literacy and credibility, but that is where the good news ends. They lack the plausibility, the credibility, the authority, the legitimacy and any political setback will only go to further diminish the confidence that whatever UMNO's problems and Malaysia's problems are, that the Najib prime ministership will prove in the short run and in the long run, an effective answer to them.

ABC radio interview

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