Kuala Lumpur – Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s eloquent silence and “play safe” strategy coupled with points earned in his handling of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have strengthened his position as a leader, veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin said.
The former New Straits editor-in-chief said Najib may have been mocked for playing safe, but the strategy of not creating enmity with anyone and being good to all sides had served him well.
“Who said Najib is weak? Even if that was so, he was just displaying that front to confuse and trap his detractors like a praying mantis which moves slowly on a leaf but attacks with the speed of lightning,” Kadir said in his latest blog posting, adding that he felt compelled to pen his thoughts following recent statements by DAP Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong and former Umno minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim that Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was a stronger leader that Najib.
He said judging from media reports, the downing of MH17 which had the world grieving over the loss of 298 lives, had instead increased the prime minister’s popularity.
Kadir said since Najib came into power, he has used political, executive and economic means to gain loyal supporters, tame his detractors and destroy his enemies.
The result of that was the expansion of the Cabinet, advisers, special officers and consultants in numbers never before seen in Malaysian history.
“Many of his critics inside and outside Umno, including party veterans, have surrendered.
“They are dumbfounded by his silence and they don’t know what else they can do for Umno and the country,” Kadir said.
He added that even former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was a remarkable leader, was not as fortunate or as strong in Umno as Najib.
According to Kadir, barely five years into his leadership, Dr Mahathir was challenged, first by the resignation of Tun Musa Hitam as deputy PM in early 1986, followed by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenging him for the Umno presidency the next year.
“But there is no sign of characters like Tengku Razaleigh and Musa in Umno today who can shake Najib’s position.”
Kadir said, therefore, whether or not, the impression that Malaysia was suffering from a leadership breakdown was true, the reality was that Najib had consolidated his position.
As such, he said, anyone who tried to bring down Najib or hoped to see him fail as Umno president and PM could dream on.
“It is impossible to bring him down as Umno president and as long as he is president, he will be prime minister.
“And only Umno can bring down Najib, but after five years at the helm, there is no sign that any Umno leader is capable of challenging him,” Kadir said.
He said the closest challenger was Umno deputy president and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, but added that Muhyiddin has said that he was “tired” and not interested to challenge Najib.
He added that among Muhyiddin’s reasons for not wanting to challenge Najib was that he did not want to be seen as a person who could not work with his bosses.
This was because he had called for Abdullah’s resignation after the 2008 general election.
“Recently, Muhyiddin whispered to me that he had the ‘deputy prime minister’ syndrome, in reference to all the deputy PMs who never became prime minister, namely Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman who died, Musa who resigned, Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba, who also resigned, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was forced out,” Kadir said.
He said, for now, Najib’s position was secure, given the current situation where Umno was seen as weak and Barisan Nasional appeared to be lifeless.
Pakatan Rakyat, too, has failed to mount a serious challenge.
He added that the conflict within Pakatan over the Selangor MB issue also served to consolidate Najib’s position.
Kadir added that voters were no longer concerned about not being able to choose between the “devil they know” and the “devil they don’t know”, as Dr Mahathir had warned in the last general election, but the stronger among the weak.
“So if under Najib’s leadership, we have a dull economy and a nation whose security and sovereignty remain under threat, the ones who will suffer are the people.
“So Najib may be strong but the people are not.”