by Jose Barrock & S Ashwiinie
Premier Najib Abdul Razak, comes across as a well-bred gentleman – he speaks well, is very polished, always in pristine suits and the hint of a clipped English accent adds to his allure.
But he wasn’t always this way, so polished— he has in the past played many roles, an angry young man, the king maker, and many others, some of which we at KiniBiz will explore.
Turn back the clock, it’s October 1987— trendy Malaysians from all walks, hang out at the Tin Mine Discotheque in the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, (now the Crowne Plaza), the Bee Gee’s “You Win Again” is atop the charts, while the late Michael Jackson’s “Bad” has just been released—ripping speakers everywhere.
Despite the apparent calm in the streets, there were serious racial problems sprouting up in Malaysia.
An angry young man
The appointment of non-Chinese educated personnel in Chinese schools resulted in a gathering of some 2,000 odd Chinese led by the association of Chinese school teachers and trustees or Dong Jiao Zong, in Kuala Lumpur. This group was joined by politicians from the Malaysian Chinese Association or MCA, Democratic Action Party known as DAP, Gerakan and other Chinese associations and parties.
Politicians from both sides of the divide—the MCA being the second largest member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and opposition stalwarts DAP—quickly charged up the crowd, racial slurs were made and a plan was put in place to boycott Chinese schools.
Interestingly enough Dong Jiong Zong and some of the other Chinese associations were asking for the resignation of then Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.
This occurred on October 11, 1987. Six days later— in retaliation—- a 34 year old Najib who was the head of UMNO Youth led a 10,000 strong rally, in the TPCA (Tamilians Physical Cultural Association) Stadium in Kampung Baru and is purported to have called for the Malays to bathe the keris (a Malay dagger) in Chinese blood.
This eventually led to Ops Lalang (weeding ops) on October 27, 1987— where 106 individuals were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA), and two publications, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh’s had their publishing licenses revoked.
Najib however has denied this entire Chinese blood and keris episode, saying he never urged the unrest. “Many think that it is his cousin Hishammuddin (Hussein) who started the keris brandishing and waving act at UMNO Youth gatherings….it was actually Najib who started it… It’s an UMNO Youth thing,” a local politician, and a Ketua Bahagian of UMNO said.
A seasoned politician at 34
“It is like that…when you go for an MCA or DAP meeting they (the members) are very racist as well, you think they are singing the praises of Malays at their meetings?
“If you go to an MIC meeting also it’s the same, but somehow when Malays do anything it gets blown out of proportion,” the UMNO politician said.
While some may attribute the episode of Chinese blood and keris to Najib being young, the fact of the matter is at 34 years old, he already had plenty of experience in politics.
In 1976 when his father Abdul Razak passed away, Najib who was 23, was selected to run for the Pekan parliamentary seat left vacant by his father’s death. And of course he won.
His first stint in the Cabinet was at the age of 25 when he was appointed Deputy Minister of energy, telecommunications and post in 1978—making him the youngest deputy minister in the country. He had a whole host of ministerial portfolios from the age of 32.
Also at the age of 29, he was Menteri Besar of Pahang, a position he held for four years from 1982.Nevertheless some have also questioned who Najib’s political mentors are. This question arises due to his closeness to Anwar who he faces as the head of the opposition today in the 13th General Elections.
Closeness to Anwar
Najib has had good ties to Anwar before. His position in 1987 as UMNO Youth head was a result of Anwar moving up the food chain, going for an UMNO Vice President’s position, and thus nudging Najib up.
Interestingly enough Najib was part of Anwar’s Team Wawasan in 1993, together with Muhammad Muhd Taib and Muhyiddin Yassin. All three were UMNO Vice Presidents, while Anwar strengthened his position to Deputy President of UMNO, when incumbent Ghafar Baba withdrew from the fight for the number two position.
Some also say that Najib’s meagre 231 seat victory in Pekan in the 1999 General Elections was a result of many showing their unhappiness with him supporting Premier Mahathir Mohamad, and parting ways with Anwar who had since been sacked.
Najib plays kingmaker
There was massive infighting in UMNO in 1987, and Najib was involved in the thick of action. A year ago, in 1986, Musa Hitam the Deputy Premier stepped down saying Mahathir no longer trusted him. Then in April of 1987, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and former deputy premier Musa Hitam took on Mahathir and his Deputy Ghafar.
Mahathir won by a mere 43 vote majority—-garnering 761 votes while Razaleigh managed 718 votes. A swing of a mere 22 votes would have altered Malaysia’s history.
Insiders say, Najib had privately backed Razaleigh, but at the 11th hour he switched camps to support Mahathir, giving the incumbent the win. They add that Anwar had played an important role in turning Najib against Razaleigh and Musa, and thus benefit Mahathir.
“I’m sure many wonder what would have happened had Najib not switched allegiances…Mahathir may not have won—Malaysian history would be very different from what it is today,” a local politician said.
While his political life panned out well in the early years, the later part of it has been tumultuous to say the least, with accusations that he was involved with a Mongolian model who was murdered.
Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder
In 2006 the entire nation was shocked when details of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder came about— especially the use of explosive substances such as C4, which are close to impossible to get on the open market, and the involvement of policemen who were assigned to the Prime Minister as bodyguards.
Najib’s aide and associate Abdul Razak Baginda was among those charged but was later acquitted. The prosecution did not appeal. Stories circulated that Altantunya was also known to Najib but Najib strenuously denied this.
Altantuya and Razak Baginda, who were emotionally attached, were said to be involved in an arms deal where Malaysia acquired Scorpene submarines from France, with the latter making high commissions from the deal.
“When you talk about arms deals there is a lot of secrecy, it’s all classified under OSA (Official Secrets Act) so there are no questions asked….it all falls under defence spending, so it’s easy money to be made…some say the whole Altantuya fiasco, is a deal gone bad,” a politician said.
Certain quarters have tried to link Rosmah Mansor— Najib’s wife to the murder, but there is no evidence to prove this.
Rosmah, an albatross around Najib’s neck
“In any political exchange, or discussion her name keeps coming up, and not in a flattering manner…earlier UMNO politicians defended her….now they don’t bother,” the politician said.
She has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. There is talk about her being involved in decision making at the highest levels, brokering deals, and living it up spending on accessories and jewellery.
Some say she is also close to the likes of Desmond Lim’s wife Tan Kewi Yoon, and steel magnate William Cheng’s wife Chelsea as well, explaining to a certain extent why the two businessmen can’t seem to do any wrong in corporate Malaysia.
Also through the grapevine was her purported involvement in awarding of the RM8 billion Gemas-Johor Bahru double tracking rail job.
As one official from a public listed company said, “It’s very seldom that almost the whole country is united against someone…strangely enough in this case it’s the PM’s wife.”
Other issues—1MDB, FELDA
More recently Najib’s 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 1MDB has issued some RM20 billion worth of bonds with very high coupon rates, but has little or nothing to show for it. The company has come under fire.
Some of its partners such as PetroSaudi International are just as opaque, leaving many questions unanswered. Also 1MDB has come out to say that it has RM7 billion in investments in the Cayman islands—- which is safe. This has irked the investing community even more, as they wonder why the money is not transferred back to Malaysia, and with some even questioning why 1MDB was set up in the first place.
Meantime there have been mixed reactions to the Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV)’s floatation exercise, which was the second largest IPO after Facebook last year, and raised some RM9.9 billion. According to certain quarters the settlers, although they received cash, were given the shorter end of the stick with the massive ownership dilution of the company.
Profundo Economic Research in a report released in June last year, prior to FGV’s floatation exercise stated that, “Our analysis shows that an accumulation of environmental, social and governance risks will result in serious financial risks for investors.” It had an avoid call on FGV’s stock.
Since a surge to almost RM5.50 after its RM4.60 IPO, FGV’s stock has tapered off and been largely trading below that for most of the the year.
Good deeds— too few and far in between?
The UMNO politician said, “Who is the President of MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), who is the President of MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association)….I tell you it’s all Najib….he’s the only hope for Barisan Nasional,” the politician said.
It is true, Najib has been in the forefront, using his own popularity to prop up both the MCA and MIC which are ailing parties.
Also to Najib’s credit economy-wise, Malaysia has been performing better than many other countries in the region. This year Malaysia’s growth is estimated to be in the region of five percent.
Last year the economy expanded by a 5.6 percent quantum as domestic demand recorded the highest rate of expansion over the decade buoyed by strong consumption and investment spending.
According to reports, overall investment by the private sector was the key driver of domestic growth in 2012. Private investment was strong contributing about 15.5 percent to GDP (gross domestic product – goods and services produced) and registering growth of 22 percent, while public investment grew 17.1 percent from higher capital spending by public enterprises.
In contrast global growth moderated in 2012, amidst the challenging economic climate. Much of these can be atrtributed to Najib’s plannning. From January 2010 to March 2013, he set up several programmes under the economic transformation project (ETP), slated to benefit the people and rightly targeting the lower income group.
The ETP which is under the belt of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit is tasked with creating a Gross National Income of US$523 billion by 2020, and increase per capita income to US$15,000 from US$6,700 in 2009.
He also set up several other initiatives which directly benefit the general populace. Among others, 1Malaysia Clinic was set up whereby treatment and medication cost only RM1, the 1Malaysia People’s Shop and the 1Malaysia People Housing Project (PR1MA), for those aiming for their first home.
Under Najib’s watch as well, work on the RM30 billion— Mass Rapid Transit System or MRT— has started.
The 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) is another of Najib’s trademarks, where cash payments of RM500 were made to needy individuals. From 2011 to 2012, approximately 1.1 million job opportunities were created.
Perhaps the landmark decision of his career is the abolishment of the Internal Security Act which is now replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measure) Act 2012 (Sosma). Najib also comprehensively reviewed the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 as well as the Sedition Act.
Malaysia also fared better in Transparency International’s 2012 Bribe Payers Survey.Thus Najib seems to have done well on some fronts.
Some of the unaddressed, unanswered issues
However during Najib’s watch as well, household debt to gross domestic product (GDP) reached RM667 billion or 77 percent of GDP which is high.
More recently questions of national security arose, after some 200 militants parked themselves down in Sabah and declared parts of the region theirs.“Imagine if you and I and a few friends walked into Singapore, bearing arms….we’d be dead in minutes,” a market watcher said.
There are also those who wonder why under Najib’s watch one individual, Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has amassed so much wealth. One of his flagship companies, DRB Hicom Bhd is based in Pekan, Pahang, which is also Najib’s constituency.
Recently there was a huge hue and cry that tycoon Robert Kuok Hock Nien had bought a parcel of land in Johor, and is to develop property in the Iskandar Malaysia. Is it really a big deal when Kuok who was born and bred in Johor buys a plot of land to develop?
Moving ahead, Najib’s plans for the country are already largely in place with heavy investments in rail projects, oil and gas, construction, property and water among others. However for Najib, his long term plans for the country could be derailed by his current deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin.
Certain quarters in UMNO say that Najib’ has to either gain two thirds majority or win back Selangor, both seemingly tough targets to achieve, to continue being prime minister. Otherwise he is likely to be challenged by Muhyiddin.
It is also clear that Muhyiddin has the support of former premier Mahathir which is very important, and to top it all Muhyiddin’s grass root support in Johor is strong.
While Muhyiddin has always been coy, and never openly said he was after Najib’s position, he could be thrust into the number one seat, if he garners more support than Najib.
However much of the fight at the UMNO level will be sorted out in the third quarter of 2013 at the UMNO General Assembly. Najib seems to have his hands full, having to look over his shoulder at Muhyiddin, campaign for UMNO, MCA and MIC, and running the country.
He has been Prime Minister for four years without a direct mandate from the people. Will the people now endorse him for the next five years?