Sunday, October 12, 2008


Malaysia’s likely next Premier faces tough ride


Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been tipped to become the nation’s new leader next March, but faces an enormous challenge to unite the ruling Party and win the support of sceptical voters. The son and nephew of two Prime Ministers has an impeccable political pedigree. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last week succumbed to intense pressure and agreed to quit after five lacklustre years in the job, paying the price for disastrous results in general elections. Najib is expected to win a vote to lead the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in March and, by tradition, automatically become Prime Minister of the country. But he will inherit a deeply divide1 Party, with trust in the Government at its lowest ebb and a resurgent opposition — headed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim — threatening to seize power. He must also contend with a scramble for the Party’s newly vacated number two spot, and a challenge from Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who has said he will contest for the Presidency. “Najib will not have a free ride to the premiership,” political scientist Shaharuddin Badaruddin told AFP. “Najib will have to deal with the issues in his past which will be resurrected and don’t forget that many of Abdullah’s supporters will now most likely throw their support for Razaleigh,” he said. The 55-year-old politician is the longest, serving Cabinet Minister, entering politics at 23 after the 1976 death in office of his father Abdul Razak, the c’ountr.y’ second Prime Minister. Mild-mannered and always dressed in immaculate suits, Najib took a degree in economics at the Unirersity of Nottingham before returning to Malaysia in the mid1970s to take on key posts at the central bank and the national oil firm. A nephew of the country’s third premier Tun Hussein Onn, Najib held several Cabinet posts in the 1980 and 1990s, modernising the military as Defence Minister before becoming Deputy Premier in January 2004. Although Najib was a contender for the premiership, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad chose Abdullah to replace him in 2003. But following a very public falling out with Abdullah, Mahathir has backed Najib for the top job in a campaign which intensified after dismal March polls that saw the Government lose its two-thirds majority in Parliament. Under Malaysian tradition, Najib has long been heir apparent to the premiership but a recent poll showed 44 percent of voters believe he will not make a good leader. “He is definitely equipped to become Prime Minister but he brings along with him a lot of baggage from’ the past that may haunt him,” Shaharuddin said. “Najib should be able to survive the previous allegations and rumours but the bigger challenge will be to unite the Party after months of infighting over the top post,” said. Tricia Yeoh, head of the Centre for Public Policy Studies. “Najib will be an efficient, decisive performance-driven leader who, improves the Government delivery system and will be a big difference,. from his predecessor,” she said. I “But he’ll also be stricter, harsher,’ and we’ll see a return of centralised decision making to UMNO and the Government coalition. “-APP