Oct 4, 2013
QUESTION TIME In the wee hours of yesterday as most of Malaysia slept, the amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act were pushed through. This brought back the dreaded provision of detention without trial that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had rolled back when he dismantled the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance.
With that, out through the window went Najib’s self-proclaimed programme to promote civil society and get rid of legislation which curtailed human rights in order to restore the same to all Malaysians.
Najib had made this loosening up of tight legislation a part of his election campaign to try and capture some of the more liberal minded, non-bumiputera, and urban voters by at least giving the impression that the nation was moving towards greater freedom.
Along with this Najib sought to become a prime minister for all Malaysians with his 1Malaysia programmes and efforts to get the non-Malay votes by targeting them specifically in ad campaigns and through the English mainstream media.
But post the elections, the tone of changes has taken a completely different complexion. The moves have been to help bumiputeras almost exclusively and to reverse the changes towards greater liberalisation.
What happened to Najib’s programmes? Is he still in control any more? Or has he had a change of heart? Is he jumping on the hardline, completely pro-bumiputera wagon now after his somewhat half-hearted ride on the other one for a while and especially before the elections?
The election results mostly did not favour Najib. He performed worse than Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2008, lost the popular vote and did not regain Selangor as widely anticipated. The saving grace was regaining Kedah and the fact that Umno got more seats than before. For Kedah, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was given credit. His son Mukhriz is now chief minister and running for a vice-president’s post in Umno.
It was widely believed that Najib would face pressure to step down, given BN’s poor showing in the general election and the loss of the popular vote to the opposition.
So when Najib was returned unopposed as Umno president ahead of the Umno polls scheduled for later this month along with his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, it raised more than some eyebrows. For good reason, too.
What happened to the expected challenge to Najib? Did all the Umno leaders and other kingmakers choose to just rally behind Najib? Or was there some other deal done?
If any deal had been done, it would most likely be one that was sort of amicable to everyone under the circumstances. This would also help avoid any wrenching challenge for the top post which may split the party apart. And if there was a deal, then it would have to be kept very quiet.
What kind of a deal would that be? The most plausible one is to maintain the status quo for now as far as the top two positions are concerned – Najib as president and Muhyiddin Yassin as deputy, which has already happened
But it would be implausible to think that Muhyiddin, who is getting on in age at 66, would not want a crack at prime minister. If Najib leads the party into the next elections, let’s say four years from now and then carries on for another four years if he wins, Muhyiddin will be 74 by then, which might be too late.
The plausible deal that could have been made is for Najib to continue for now and then for him to step down ahead of the next Umno general assembly after the one scheduled for later this month. That may be three to four years down the line. Muhyiddin will take over and lead Umno and BN into the next elections, if that is the deal.
It raises the question of who will be in line for number two at that point of time. That means the intense fight for the vice-presidents’ posts which has seen six nominations will be crucial although not necessarily final.
The three incumbents are new Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (who garnered the highest votes in the last polls in 2009 with 1,575) followed by Hishammuddin Hussein (1,515) and Mohd Shafie Apdal (1,445).
Two oldtimers have thrown their hats into the ring: Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, a former Negri Sembilan chief minister and currently chairperson of Felda Global Ventures as well as other Felda companies, and former Malacca chief minister Mohd Ali Rustam. Both have been in the past hauled up for money politics within Umno.
The sixth candidate is dark horse Mukhriz who of course has the blessing and support of his father Mahathir who is still not a spent force in Umno and exerts considerable influence through his oft-quoted and often off-colour, humorous remarks to the press. Some continue to believe that Mahathir is still a kingmaker.
Most don’t give much of a chance to the two oldtimers seeing as they have been tainted in Umno politics but there is an outside chance that Mukhriz can dislodge one of the incumbents – most bets are likely to be on Shafie Apdal – to take his position as a possible future deputy.
If the deal has been made for Muhyiddin to take over from Najib to lead Umno and BN into the next elections, then Muhyiddin can appoint any one of the vice-presidents as his deputy. Recall that Hussein Onn chose Mahathir, who scored the lowest votes among the vice presidents, as his deputy.
That does not preclude anyone else from contesting the deputy president’s post when the Umno polls are due which still leaves a number of permutations for the number two under the deal scenario.
Another dark horse that can’t be written off is Khairy Jamaluddin (left), son-in-law of Abdullah, who will be contesting for the top Umno Youth position. If he wins he becomes automatically a vice-president but going by past precedent it is not very compelling for Muhyiddin to pick him as interim number two. Still, he could contest for the number two position in the Umno polls but he may wait it out given his relatively young age.
Mahathir does not disguise his dislike for Khairy though, and Mukhriz if he wins the vice-presidency position will likely leapfrog Khairy in the succession order. Mukhriz lost to Khairy in the last polls for Umno Youth head.
If current trends of reversing Najib’s earlier policies indeed presage a departure of Najib before the next elections, then we are in for some interesting times and for some extreme jostling one to two tiers below the top.
P GUNASEGARAM is the founding editor of KiniBiz.