By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
The Malay Mail Online
September 14, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — A renewed and inward-facing agitation among Umno-friendly blogs hints that all is not well within the Malay nationalist party ahead of its polls.
Since the general election, prominent blogs aligned to the party such as bigdogdotcom and outsyedthebox began turning up their criticism against Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak. And with the party’s election drawing nearer, their volume has only grown louder.
They are also not a force to be trifled with; ostensibly created to protect and promote the conservative interests of those aligned with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, they were partly credited for the campaign that saw Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi forced out to make way for Najib in 2009.
But the grace accorded to Najib since he took office in April 2009 has since ended. Now, the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister has come in for the same treatment from the very blogs that helped put him in power.
And as much as Najib and his allies try to tell the public that Umno is doing well and remains united in the aftermath of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) worst ever electoral performance, the increasing attacks in the blogs paints a much grimmer picture that the ruling Malay party is divided.
“They are testing the ground, to see if any attempt to challenge Najib would gain traction,” said one a senior Umno leader, who spoke to The Malay Mail Online on condition of anonymity, when explaining the reasons behind the intensifying blog attacks on the Umno president.
Outwardly, Najib’s position is seen as secure, with top party leaders calling for the presidency and deputy presidency to go uncontested. But this was done more for the sake of stability, the Umno leader said.
“If there is a challenge this party will be divided, and if we are, by the next general election we will be defeated,” the Umno leader said.
Analysts noted that the Umno blogs had been critical of Najib’s liberal economic and political policies but they remained negligible until after Election 2013, when the ruling BN coalition not only failed to regain its coveted parliamentary supermajority but also lost the popular vote for the first time since 1969 the last time it contested as the Alliance Party.
Now, not only have attacks in the blogs grown more vicious, but influential old guards such as Tun Daim Zainuddin, a former finance minister and confidante to Dr Mahathir, and former New Strait Times group editor-in-chief Datuk A. Kadir Jasin have joined in to publicly criticise Najib’s tactics.
“They’re not happy with how he ran the show. He had people who were more of a yes-man and smartasses around him and the old guards see this as weaknesses on the part of Najib,” said another Umno leader, who also asked not to be named.
These are also long-standing grouses with the group. Daim and Kadir both have criticised the prime minister for retaining leaders that they say are past their prime.
Others believe that the needling was to remind Najib of whom Umno claims to champion — the Malays.
Since taking office, Najib embarked on a raft of economic and political reforms, including a controversial New Economic Model (NEM) that was to gradually dismantle a defunct but still enforced pro-Bumiputera affirmative action policy for greater meritocracy.
But the idea was savaged by sections of his party as well as Malay rights groups such as Perkasa. Since then, little has been heard of the NEM.
“I believe the attacks are a warning to Najib, to ensure that he sticks with the Malay agenda,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan of think-tank IDEAS.
But Wan Saiful said that whether or not these attacks are intended to find a challenger to Najib remains unclear, but the intense condemnation reflected a party divided in its direction.
“Najib is trying to bring the country forward but some groups are trying to make it stay as it is. This will be a contest between taking the country forward and maintaining the status quo,” he said.
Najib has already delayed on some of his promises for greater economic and political reforms.
In July, global ratings firm Fitch Ratings lost patience with the pace of Najib’s promised overhaul and subsequently downgraded Malaysia’s credit rating outlook from “Stable” to “Negative”.
Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent polling house Merdeka Centre, said the rising heat facing Najib from within Umno will definitely impede the rollout of necessary reforms.
“It may be hard for him to try and bring the party back to the centre as it would be upsetting to the party’s conservative,” he said.
Nominations for the Umno Youth, Puteri and Wanita wings go on until September 21, with elections for posts contested to take place during their annual meeting on October 12. Nominations for supreme council posts are open until September 28 and the election will be held on October 19.
This is the first time that 146,500 Umno members from the party’s 191 divisions will directly elect the members of the supreme council the president, deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 members ? after an amendment to its constitution in 2009. Previously, only some 2,500 members were eligible to vote in the election.