April 19, 2015
Dr. M’s bark could still hurt Prime Minister Najib Razak
The last time Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Prime Minister must go, heads in UMMO nodded in quiet agreement; this time, however, his call has been greeted by wagging fingers instead.
But to discount his sway despite the cold and, at times, hostile reception would be dangerous, according to political analysts who viewed him as still holding considerable clout outside of the party, courtesy to the visible monuments of his administration.
From the iconic Petronas Twin Towers to the administrative capital of Putrajaya, Dr Mahathir had palpably shaped the country in his vision, and along with it, a generation who considers him to be synonymous with the leadership of Malaysia.
His legacy as an “ultra Malay” leader who brought development to the country’s ethnic majority was also not forgotten, and these may prove to be a bane to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration if Dr Mahathir chooses to go to war with it ahead of the next general election.
“The Malay community can relate to Mahathir,” independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng told Malay Mail Online. “Whatever developments you see around us, all are associated with him. Najib and Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi) can’t live up to them,” he added.
While this is usually a benefit to the ruling UMNO, the same factors could become a threat now that Dr Mahathir has rescinded support for Najib and is demanding the latter’s resignation over issues such as 1 Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) debts and the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu.
Neither issue is new, with the Altantuya murder dating back nearly a decade, but Dr Mahathir’s sudden interest has breathed new life into topics that the opposition have carped upon to the point of exhaustion and lent the allegations a gravitas that could convince those not otherwise invested.
While UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have rallied around Najib with far greater enthusiasm than was seen when Dr Mahathir went after Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Khoo warned that the same conviction may not extend to every level, especially at the grassroots.
“If Najib really has the backing he would not need to go around and ask them to parade their support. Do not underestimate the silence in UMNO,” he said, adding that the UMNO network was too huge for anyone to gauge what the majority’s sentiments were on the Najib-Dr Mahathir dispute.
Luminaries such as Tun Daim Zainuddin, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib have also voiced similar views — though the first two are known to be staunchly in Dr Mahathir’s camp — saying that UMNO members were known for quiet mutiny rather than open displays of discontent.
With no immediate threat from UMNO and the next general election not due before 2018, Najib still has the opportunity to head off problems with Dr Mahathir before they turned chronic. UMNO leaders such as Puteri Chief Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin and Tan Sri Rais Yatim, a known Dr Mahathir loyalist, have already urged both men to reconcile, saying that the hostility was ultimately harmful to both UMNO and the country.
Ibrahim Suffian, Director of independent pollster Merdeka Centre, agreed that Najib may suffer a backlash from UMNO and the Malaysian public if he fails to address Dr Mahathir’s grievances properly. “Yes there is a possibility that UMNO grassroots may turn against him, but Najib will still have time to rectify,” he told Malay Mail Online.