The protégé turned prodigal
by Raja Petra Kamarudin
Najib Tun Razak should never have been appointed Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi did not want Najib but then Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad forced his hand and gave him no choice in the matter. Actually, in spite of all the arm-twisting, Pak Lah was still recalcitrant and, as the Malays would say, buat bodoh saja.
Mahathir detected that Pak Lah was playing for time. Of course, Pak Lah did not come right out and refuse to consider Najib for number two. He just dragged his feet and delayed making the announcement while hoping that Mahathir would eventually ease off or lose interest in the whole matter. But Mahathir is like a dog with a bone. Once he gets his teeth into something, it is very difficult to get him to let go again. Take the Crooked Bridge, the sale of sand to Singapore, the Singapore-Malaysia water supply agreement, Proton, MV Agusta, and all those other issues close to his heart. Even at the risk of sounding like a stuck record he is not relenting and continues to bang away until what he views as transgressions are rectified.
In that same spirit Mahathir was not about to allow Pak Lah to get his own way in the matter of the appointment of his number two. It was going to be Najib and no one else. And Mahathir pulled off a marvellous coup in getting what he wanted.
Earlier, the senior civil servants had approached Mahathir to invite him to a farewell dinner. Since he had already retired, and Pak Lah was now the Prime Minister, Mahathir did not see any point in the farewell dinner. You normally say farewell and honour one with a farewell dinner just before one goes, not after one has already left, and Mahathir said so. But the delegation insisted they honour Mahathir with a farewell dinner.
That was probably when an idea popped into Mahathir’s head. Always one to think on his feet, I would not put it past him to see an opportunity in this proposed farewell dinner. He agreed to the belated farewell party on condition they also invite Pak Lah. After all, Pak Lah is the Prime Minister so it would not be good manners to exclude him from the festivities. That was Mahathir’s condition. If they invite Pak Lah, and if Pak Lah agrees to attend, then he would agree to the dinner. If not, then no dinner.
So the delegation went off and approached Pak Lah and explained to the Prime Minister the term to get Mahathir to agree to the dinner. If Pak Lah refuses to attend, then the event is off, and the senior civil servants would not be able to honour Mahathir with a farewell dinner. So Pak Lah has to agree to attend to get Mahathir to also agree to the dinner.
Put in that manner how could Pak Lah say no. He would certainly not want to be the wet blanket or party pooper, so he said yes. And so both Mahathir and Pak Lah attended the dinner that night. And so too did members of the media. And when the press asked Mahathir to make a statement, he said that he would like to thank Pak Lah for agreeing to appoint Najib as his number two.
Pak Lah was caught totally off-guard. His balls shrank and he stormed out of the room and instructed his aids to order a total news blackout on Mahathir’s statement. Nothing is supposed to be reported in the media. But then you can control the mainstream or print media; you cannot control the alternative media or Internet. And that same night what Mahathir announced spread like wildfire through the Internet. So the next day Pak Lah had no choice but to announce, almost 20 hours later, that Najib had in fact been appointed Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister.
By then Mahathir was beginning to suspect he had made a serious mistake in appointing Pak Lah as his successor. It did not take him long to also realise he had made an equally serious mistake by insisting that Pak Lah take Najib as his number two. If Pak Lah was the only mistake then this could be rectified. He could force Pak Lah’s resignation and allow Najib to take over. But when Najib was beginning to prove an even worse mistake, how do you rectify this? In that sort of situation you just can’t force the number one out in favour of the number two. That would be like out of the frying pan, into the fire. You either get fried or get burned. Not much of a choice is it?
Many harbour the opinion that of late Mahathir has slowed down his attacks on Pak Lah because of his heart problem. Actually it is not that at all. No heart problem is going to slow Mahathir down. He is too tough to allow a simple thing like that curtail his attacks. It is the thought that removing Pak Lah would just allow Najib to take over that actually slowed him down. Between the two evils, Pak Lah is the lesser.
Okay, Pak Lah may be constantly sleeping during meetings and functions. He even slept during a very important war council meeting which was called to decide how to respond to Indonesia’s sort of declaration of war by ramming one of our Navy boats. Mahathir can live with this. He can even live with the very greedy and in-a-hurry son-in-law who believes that Rome was built in six days while on the seventh day the ‘lord’ of all that he sees rested. He can even live with the son who already has RM1.5 billion worth of government contracts to his credit. But what he can’t live with is Najib’s interfering wife who thinks that after the death of Kak Endon she now plays the role of First Lady.
Well, I have news for Rosmah: Malaysia does not have a First Lady. And even if we did, which we do not, it would be the Permaisuri Agong and not the Prime Minister’s wife who is the First Lady. And after that we have the nine Rulers (seven Sultans, one Raja of Perlis and one Yam Tuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan) and four Undangs (of Negeri Sembilan). So the Prime Minister’s wife is the Fifteenth Lady while the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife is the Sixteenth Lady, even if the Prime Minister is not married.
Anyway, while on the subject of the Prime Minister’s wife, some say Pak Lah married Jean Danker on 22 January 2007 while others say he will be marrying her tomorrow, 22 February 2007. Now, which one is true we do not quite know yet but she is already following Pak Lah on his overseas trips. In the trip he made to Perth to officiate his brother’s Nasi Kandar restaurant, it seems his daughter, Nori, went berserk when she found Jean in Pak Lah’s bedroom. Only after Pak Lah explained that there is nothing sinister about the whole thing because they are already married did Nori calm down and, like it or not, accept the fact that her father had remarried.
The word being spread through a whispering campaign is that, just before she died, Kak Endon had endorsed Pak Lah’s marriage to Jean. It seems, according to the spin, Kak Endon told Pak Lah that if he ever gets lonely after she has gone then he should take Jean as his wife. This, according to those close to the late Kak Endon, is a spin meant to legitimise the marriage. They dispute this and argue that Pak Lah had already been eyeing Jean even while Kak Endon was still alive. Jean used to be married to Osman Mahmud, Kak Endon’s brother, so this makes Jean her sister-in-law. Kak Endon was in fact very upset and that was why she stayed in the US and refused to come back to Malaysia. To explain why she was in the US and not in Malaysia, they spun the story that Kak Endon was undergoing treatment which was not true. In fact, the doctors had suggested that she return to Malaysia as there was nothing much they could do for her any longer.
Anyway, Najib went to the US to visit Kak Endon and when he returned to Malaysia he disputed the talk that there was no hope for Kak Endon and that she was only waiting for death to come claim her. She is responding well to treatment, argued Najib. Very soon after that Kak Endon returned to Malaysia and died, so there goes Najib’s prognosis that she was responding well to treatment and that talk of her getting ready to die were all lies being spewed by the Internet. You can argue and deny and accuse the Internet of lying, but how do you dispute a body that is lying dead in its grave? So who is lying now?
Kak Endon’s death was a blessing and a Godsend to Rosmah, Najib’s wife. Kak Endon hated Rosmah and would refuse to look her in the face or talk to her. Now she, and no longer Kak Endon, was the First Lady. Hip, hip, hooray! But Rosmah forgot one thing; the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. Under Malaysia’s Constitution, there is no First Lady and even if there was it would be the Agong’ wife and not the Prime Minister’s wife -- and certainly not the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife. And another thing that Rosmah did not take into consideration is that Pak Lah would remarry. So that relegates her back to the role of Second Lady (if you still want to insist that the Prime Minister’s wife is the First Lady).
Make no mistake; Jean Danker is a wonderful human being and a decent lady. I have no animosity towards her and if she can resist the temptation of interfering in the running of this country I am sure even Mahathir might end up liking her as well. In fact, I feel she makes a wonderful ‘First Lady’ and if it is true that she is already married to Pak Lah then I would like to be the first to wish her ‘Selamat Pengantin Baru’. I also hope that Nori and Kamal would leave her alone and allow their stepmother a blissful and happy marriage. Maybe what Malaysia needs is a lady like Jean beside Pak Lah to help our Prime Minister see the error of his ways and maybe distract him a bit from his children and children-in-law. Pak Lah may not be perfect but the problem is compounded by his children and children-in-law who feel that the entire family instead of just Pak Lah is the Prime Minister of this country.
Anyway, that now throws the whole scenario out of whack. With Pak Lah now married, where does that put Rosmah? And the fact that Mahathir now considers Najib a liability does not augur well for the Prime-Minister-in-waiting. If Rosmah just knew that Mahathir considers her as one of Najib’s stumbling blocks it would upset her even further. But Rosmah already suspected that Mahathir is not too pleased with her. Mahathir had been told that Rosmah screamed at Najib and slapped him in the presence of some visitors, a conduct most unbecoming of people in high office. So Rosmah tried to ambil hati Mahathir by attending the recent Peace Conference at the Putra World Trade Centre. I really don’t know whether that worked but it is not that easy to win Mahathir over and simple gestures like that might not quite do the trick.
Rosmah’s and Najib’s quarrel was actually about Razak Baginda. Rosmah wanted Najib to distant himself from Razak and to let him take the fall alone. But whatever shortcomings Najib may have, deserting friends in need is not one of them -- true to his Bugis blood as the Bugis always stand by their friends and if you take on one Bugis then you risk taking on the entire community (I should know). But Rosmah knew that the Razak Baginda case is a time-bomb that might not only jeopardise Najib’s chances of making Prime Minister but may even see him exit as Deputy Prime Minister. Rosmah went ballistic, screaming like a banshee. She gave Najib a tight slap which was heard in the next room where some visitors waiting to meet him were sitting most uncomfortably in their seats and wondering whether they should quietly sneak out to save Najib further embarrassment.
Talking about visitors, recently four people came to meet Najib and Rosmah came out to interrogate them as to whether they were there to talk about politics or business. When one of them asked what the difference was, Rosmah replied that if they wanted to talk about politics then they can meet Najib, but if it was about business then they should talk to her instead. The appalled visitors then remembered one Ministry of Defence meeting that was chaired by Rosmah while Najib just sat there quietly as Rosmah took the chair as the de facto Defence Minister. Rafidah Aziz actually raised this matter at one Cabinet meeting and asked whether Najib or Rosmah is the Defence Minister.
Mahathir no longer feels that Najib should be the next Prime Minister. As much as he wants Pak Lah out of office, the prospect of Najib talking over is even worse. Pak Lah may not realise it, but having Najib as his number two may yet be what saves him. Pak Lah may have felt at that time that being forced to take Najib as his number two was a curse. On hindsight, I am sure Pak Lah feels that this is still the best move yet. If he had taken someone else more suitable than Najib as his number two, then there would be every incentive to remove him in favour of his number two. But with Najib as his number two, Pak Lah is still the better choice in comparison.
Mahathir may have painted himself into a corner this time. Removing Pak Lah is one thing, but removing both number one and number two at the same time is preposterous. And why would anyone want to remove Pak Lah if all it means is that Najib will take over, or rather Rosmah would take over?
Najib has many negatives hanging over his head. The murder of the Mongolian girl is one. His sex escapades are another. But all these can be swept under the carpet. His wife, however, is something else altogether. Najib may have to make a very difficult decision soon. Does he want to stay married to Rosmah or does he want to become the next Prime Minister? He certainly cannot have both so he must choose between one and the other.
Anyway, while Najib makes up his mind, we will stop here and when we return in the next episode we will reveal how Najib spent RM50 million to buy support from the 25 Umno divisions in Sabah. So stayed tuned for more on Najib!