April 28, 2013
Najib Razak meets Veronica Pedrosa on Al Jazeera
Caretaker PM Najib Razak recorded an interview with Al Jazeera a few weeks ago, apparently, and it aired yesterday.
It will probably go down as one more of Najib’s election related blunders to go along with waiting so long to dissolve Parliament and campaign as a Presidential candidate in a Parliamentary election.
Few things about the interview. Firstly, Veronica Pedrosa did a great job. Interviewers frequently get intimidated in front of Heads of State or, out of respect, avoid asking the most obvious and difficult questions. Veronica did neither and I respect her for that.
Secondly, Najib’s body language was off for the interview from start to finish. His legs were shaking. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. His face showed, at times a lack of interest, and at other times a real sense of discomfort with the questions.
Thirdly, on content Najib probably scored a low C. At a general sense he did his best to present himself as someone in a position of leadership who has some grasp of the difficult issues facing his country. However, whenever the interviewer asked about specifics Najib gave answers that probably hurt him more than they helped him.
For instance when asked about debating Anwar Ibrahim, Najib said that there are many ways to engage with people in an election and he was focused on other ways. He said a debate “probably won’t happen”. Well, is it a probability or a possibility or impossible? His answer was weak and showed that after 2 years of avoiding facing Anwar head-to-head he still doesn’t have a good answer to the question.
When asked about the Allah issue I think Najib really botched his response. The first part of the answer probably would have been OK a it reflects a sort of flimsy, neither here neither there attitude of let’s just sweep issues under the rug and try to get along. But when Veronica pressed him on the comparison between Malaysia and Lebanon, Najib once again did not have a solid answer and just said in Malaysia we’re different just because and that’s that.
The problem is that Najib may not even believe the position on non-Muslims not using the world Allah in Malaysia is a valid position. He is a Western educated self-proclaimed ‘moderate’ who is hardly a hardliner when it comes to issues of religion. Yet on this one issue he needs to pander shamelessly to the ultra right Malay base. Even PAS has relented on the position and said there is no problem here. So Najib lost big time on this one.
Which brings us to PAS. It is quite “un-statesmenship” like to berate and attack the Islamic Party of Malaysia during an election like Najib did. Basically when asked “What does PAS stand for” Najib poured scorn on PAS as if it was some antique relic party that still used candles and push carts and wrote on papyrus and animal skins.
In actual fact, PAS is a very modern party going through an amazing internal transformation and has come out the other end far more willing and capable to adapt to the time then UMNO has thus far shown any capacity for. My sense is Najib’s distasteful comments about PAS, if they make it to the grassroots, will backfire among middle of the ground Malays who respect the positions that PAS takes but are focused on outcomes for the country.
I suggest you take 20 minutes to watch the interview. It’s telling how the Prime Minister, after four years in office, still lacks the confidence and composure to answer a few difficult questions.
By comparison Anwar Ibrahim gave interviews on Al Jazeera and CNBC (above) 15 days ago and generally performed much better.–Din Merican