30
Jan
17

Najib Razak appears secure, but looks can deceive – Economist

Najib Razak appears secure, but looks can deceive

The opposition has a chance to strike

A ROUND of applause, ladies and gentlemen. Any typical leader of a typical democracy, when found with nearly $700m of ill-explained money from an unnamed foreign donor in his accounts, would experience a swift and fatal fall. Yet, nearly two years after news first broke that Najib Razak’s bank balance had been thus plumped up, his high-wire act continues.

You could even argue that the Malaysian prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing, is at the top of his game. Mr Najib appears to command the unstinting loyalty of the party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the coalition that has ruled the country since independence in 1957. He has undermined a fractious opposition, not least by peeling an Islamist party away from it. And as investigations proceed in several other countries into the alleged bilking of colossal sums from 1MDB, an indebted state investment-fund whose advisory board Mr Najib once chaired, the prime minister himself remains untouched. Staying in power helps stave off any risk he might face of international prosecution. A general election is due by late August 2018, but perhaps Mr Najib will call a snap poll in the next few months to give himself several more years’ rule.

The question is how, despite the mysteries surrounding 1MDB and his personal accounts, the prime minister appears to be consolidating his power. Patronage is a big part of it. Though his wife has a lusty appetite for Hermès Birkin bags, and the wedding of his daughter to a nephew of the Kazakhstani president was an occasion of such bling that the Malaysian media were discouraged from publishing photographs, Mr Najib may be essentially right when he says the cash in his accounts was not for personal gain. An UMNO leader needs money to buy loyalty from powerful politicians. It is also handy for spreading largesse among ordinary Malays—including helping devout Muslims make the haj.

Threats are as important as money. Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of the informal opposition coalition which won the popular vote in an election in 2013 (though not, thanks to gerrymandering, a majority of seats), has been in prison since 2015 on trumped-up charges of sodomy. In November the leader of an anti-corruption rally in Kuala Lumpur was arrested and held under tough new security laws. Newspapers and bloggers have been hounded. The number of activists and politicians charged with sedition has shot up. As for 1MDB, the only conviction in Malaysia related to it has been of a whistle-blowing legislator who highlighted alleged wrongdoing by the fund’s managers.

…more
Najib Razak appears secure, but looks can deceive
The opposition has a chance to strike
6 Jan 2017 – Economist

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All that is necessary
for the triumph of evil
is for good men
to do nothing.

- Edmund Burke
When the people
fears their government,
there is TYRANNY;
when the government
fears the people,
there is LIBERTY.

- Thomas Jefferson
Do you hear the people sing?

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