Fissures appear in Umno as crisis deepens

COMMENT As Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Razak faces explosive allegations of embezzlement, corruption and electoral manipulation that go to the very core of his leadership and the legitimacy of his government, the country is plunged into yet another crisis.

Sadly crises have become common developments of the Najib government, whose responses to 1MDB even before the revelations by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) brought to the fore questions of economic mismanagement which has undermined the reputation of the Malaysia’s financial institutions.

For many, the issue at hand is what Najib will do – he has already done serious damage to the country and unfortunately every day he stays in office, his leadership negatively affects the country’s reputation. Not only is Malaysia’s international credibility is on the line, its currency, access to foreign capital and future economic prosperity are at risk.

Unlike his father, Malaysia’s second premier Abdul Razak Hussien, Najib has apparently chosen to put himself first rather than the country. During his tenure, Najib has distinguished himself from Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his effectiveness in using the country’s political institutions to strengthen his personal position. He has indeed taken the office of the prime minister to a new low.

Najib deserves a fair and impartial investigation of the allegations made by WSJ. This can be done if he opts to go on leave during the investigation period and appoints respected impartial individuals to lead the investigation. Neither of these have been done so far, as the approach has been to issue denials, thus raising suspicions of a potential cover-up, and this sends conflicting signals about the investigation.

In a ‘fox guarding the hen house dynamic,’ members of the task force assigned to investigate are neither impartial nor distant from developments. In some cases, their job was to review these bank transactions and as such should also be subject to an independent investigation in their failure to act before the WSJ report. The lack on impartiality of the task force does not build credibility, especially in international markets.

Najib’s decision to hold onto power and stay in office compromises any investigation due to the inherent conflict of interests involved and this assures that any departure will be an even harder landing for himself, his family, his political party, Umno, and worst of all, the country.

A divided Umno

Najib’s decision to stay put as PM also indicates that other leaders will now have prominent roles in shaping the course of history. Increasingly Najib will have less control over what happens to his political future.

The main determinant of developments ahead will be Umno itself. Meetings have already been held with division chiefs who wield considerable power within Umno, with the numbers split into three camps – those in Najib’s camp influenced by personal loyalty and his generous patronage; those opposed to Najib cheered on by Mahathir but hesitant for an open challenge due largely to the largesse and levers of power they face; and those in the middle, waiting to be sure to land on the ‘safe side’ as this is the side that protects their political and economic survival.

Najib currently does not command a confident majority of the divisions, but relies heavily on those in the middle to stay in office. Over the next few weeks, this middle group will determine Umno and Najib’s future; they will determine whether the party’s and country’s interests are more important than any one individual’s interests.

At issue is whether the funds were used for the interests of the party or for ‘personal gain’. The alleged amounts in Najib’s bank account have created shockwaves, as Umno leaders know that even in the massive election giveaways in GE 2013, this sort of money did not all go down the patronage network.

Jul 10, 2015 – malaysiakini
By Bridget Welsh
Fissures appear in Umno as crisis deepens


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