August 2, 2015
Malaysia: Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Zahid Hamid- The Positive Spin for Najib Razak
by Jocelyn Tan@www.thestar.com.my
IT was late afternoon by the time the Prime Minister showed up at Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s Hari Raya open house in Damansara Heights. It was still crowded because many of the guests had lingered on when they heard that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was coming.
Najib often wears red for Wanita UMNO dos and he stood out in his crimson batik shirt. His face seemed rather flushed although the day had cooled down and someone joked that it must be the political temperature out there.
It had been a super stressful day – he had just sacked Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and also brought the axe down on long-time loyalist Dato’ Seri Shafie Apdal, who had turned against him.
The ripples from the Cabinet reshuffle have yet to subside. After all, Muhyiddin is UMNO Deputy President and Shafie is one of three Vice-Presidents.
About half an hour after Najib and his wife arrived at Shahrizat’s house, the new Deputy Prime Minister and his wife arrived. It was one of those moments – everyone wanted a piece of Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
The presence of the top two was not purely social. The pair were sending an important signal that Shahrizat, the leader of the backbone of the party, is with them. The timing could not have been better.The new No.2 had also had a stressful day, but it was a happy type of stress and some said he was smiling non-stop.
Actually, Dr Ahmad Zahid is one of those natural smilers whose face crinkles up whenever he smiles. The Prime Minister had indicated to him a day earlier but still, he felt rather overwhelmed when it finally happened.
He is the new flavour of the month and everywhere he goes, there are cameras clicking away.
Dr Ahmad Zahid has had a tough guy reputation ever since he took on the Home Ministry job. He has managed to clamp down on organised crime and is popular among the police force. But behind that likeable smile is a rather jantan (masculine) personality and you really do not want to get on his wrong side.
But his image within UMNO is quite different. The UMNO crowd sees him as a people’s politician, someone who is completely without airs and whom the common folk relate to.
His handshakes are firm, he looks people in the eye and he does not hesitate to give friends and long-time associates man hugs. Once, when he met PAS President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang in Mecca, political rivalry was pushed aside and Muslim brotherhood kicked in. He wrapped his arms around the elder man and they held hands and chatted like old friends.
His parents were religious teachers in Bagan Datoh, where he grew up, and that part of his upbringing comes through in the way he carries himself. He was the first Umno leader to have a surau in his house, long before it became the fashion among the Muslim elite.
He is one of the few UMNO leaders who appears at certain public functions in jubah and kopiah, and many had noted that his acceptance speech for the top post was flavoured with Quranic verses.
Dr Ahmad Zahid’s appointment is seen as one of those timely moves in assisting Najib to consolidate the party. The new No.2 is charismatic and can be entrusted to champion the Malay cause and quench Muslim sentiment.
But back to Najib. His party is seeing a new side to him now that the velvet gloves have come off. Very few in his party thought he had the nerve to drop his deputy but he not only chopped his deputy, he also showed his former loyalist the door.
Muhyiddin had gone against the instruction to all Cabinet members that only Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanazlah was authorised to speak on the 1MDB issue while investigations were ongoing. He crossed the line not once but twice.
Shortly after a video of Muhyiddin slamming the 1MDB issue at an UMNO event in Janda Baik went viral, Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kader had told aides that was not the way to do things.
“If anyone wants to go against the President, he should resign first. As long as I am in the party, I will defend the president and PM,” he had told his aides.
Najib had said it was a difficult decision to make. Muhyiddin is his senior by a few years and Shafie goes back a long way with him.Moreover, said UMNO supreme council member Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Najib had lent his clout to help the two men win in the last UMNO election and he had not expected them to turn against him.
“Loyalty and teamwork are very important to him. The PM does not scold people. He doesn’t raise his voice or lose his temper even when (he is) angry. He has been too nice and accommodating. I think some people crossed the line,” said Ahmad Shabery.
The reshuffle, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it, is the Prime Minister’s prerogative. Even Muhyiddin acknowledges that.It is quite apparent that Najib’s desire to stay on was greater than Muhyiddin’s desire to become Prime Minister. Moreover, the reshuffle came on the same day as his appointment of a new Attorney-General. Beneath Najib’s polished Malay gentleman demeanour lies some very shrewd survival instincts. Those who continue to cross him will probably regret it because having tasted blood, it will be easier the next time around. In fact, he may even come to enjoy the taste of it.To put it in Manglish, his Cabinet members would not dare to “play-play” with him anymore and, as they say, it is better to be feared than to be loved in politics.
His tough line with opponents in his party and Cabinet has, quite surprisingly, drawn him grudging regard from some quarters. For too long, he was known as Mr Nice. But he has shown that he is willing to use the sword.
“I have a feeling that some people like this kind of toughness. It is, in some strange way, equated with leadership and taking charge, especially where the Chinese are concerned. Chinese history and literature are full of such stories of strategic survival,” said Fui Soong, CEO of the CENSE think tank.
All of this should not be taken to mean that the 1MDB issue will go away any time soon. Najib’s team will need to manage the issue and provide answers, closure and more importantly, rebut some of the absurd things popping up every other day.
The latest was another claim by UK-based Sarawak Report claiming that Najib would be charged in court soon. It turned out to be another fake document and was immediately shot down by the Attorney-General’s Department. Najib will continue to come under smear campaigns by groups like Sarawak Report.
But he is now quite unassailable within UMNO because there is no one big enough to challenge him.
His Deputy President is out in the cold and of the three UMNO Vice-Presidents, one has been promoted, another has been chopped and the third is his first cousin.
It is all kao-tim (settled), as the Chinese would say. Politically speaking, it looks like a pretty smooth Machiavellian stroke. He and his new Deputy will now have to go down to assuage the ground over what has happened.But the media interest is about to move on to something new, namely a possible conclusion to what has been described as the greatest mystery in aviation history.
A piece of wreckage or flaperon believed to be part of MH370 has been found washed up on the French Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar.It was one of those goosebump-inducing type of news – after all these months, the sea currents have carried a part of the aircraft to an island with the uncanny name of Reunion. It is as if the lost souls are reaching out to be reunited with their loved ones.
Airline disasters and political issues have seemed intertwined in dominating the news in the last year or so. And it is about to happen again.