The Wall Street Journal reported that some US$700 million went into the personal bank account of PM Najib. To turn the tide around, Najib initiated its propaganda machine, calling the 1MDB developments a “political conspiracy to topple an elected prime minister.”
Before Hari Raya, mainstream media already carried in great lengths the report that former PetroSaudi executive Xavier Andre Justo had blackmailed his ex-boss and tampered with confidential documents before the revelation that Justo met a heavyweight opposition leader and media tycoon in Singapore.
Another report pointed to the fact that as many as ten individuals had purchased the documents from Justo, including one from Umno.
Through the arrangement by pro-Umno individuals, former Sarawak Tribune editor Lester Melanyi recorded a video clip claiming that Sarawak Report had been instructed by Anwar Ibrahim to falsify documents, while the MCMC announced Sunday night to block Sarawak Report’s website.
The entire course of action is seen as a move to try to “reverse” the negative reports against the PM and 1MDB.
Such counter-assaults show that Najib would not bend under the pressure from Mahathir and dissidents within his own party; nor will he “go on leave” because of the 1MDB scandal. It looks like the battle will still go on for some time.
Najib still has time to deploy his moves to ‘purge his personal reputation” because the AG’s office has only completed a preliminary report on 1MDB due to the slow investigation progress. The final report will not be ready before the end of this year while there has been no deadline set for the special task force.
To consolidate his own position in the government and party, it is very likely for Najib to reshuffle his cabinet soon, replacing uncooperative ministers with his own confidants. This will serve to remind the Umno folks that he is still very much in charge.
But those unhappy with Najib will not give up just that. They will publish more messages unfavorable to the PM. While the authorities can block a website, they cannot completely seal off social media sites.
Moreover, netizens can always jailbreak to gain access to Sarawak Report’s site, or disseminate the messages through Facebook.
It remains dubious how convincing mainstream media’s reports are because the WSJ report has had a detrimental effect on the PM’s established public image. With the Internet now teeming with negative information, it is questionable whether the few counter-measures taken by the government could arrest the damage.
Leadership crisis aside, Umno is also encountering the dilemma of a sliding economy and dwindling faith from party members and the public.
BN’s traditional strongholds are the rural areas, the interiors of East Malaysia, Felda settlements, longhouses, estates and aboriginal hamlets. If GST and other issues begin to spread to these areas, the foundation of BN administration will be rocked.
Thanks to 1MDB and other issues, BN has been increasingly alienated by young, and well educated urban voters. There is no way it should let go of its traditional strongholds as well.
As if that is not enough, Umno is also feeling the pinch of the extremists. In the recent Low Yat Plaza incident for example, the racist thugs began to challenge the prestige of the police force. Umno is beginning to taste the bitter fruits of their own sowing for conniving at extremist remarks.
The economic downturn, meanwhile, offers a unique opportunity for those with ill motives to cook up racial issues that will sink Najib into a predicament.
If Najib were to continue presiding over Umno, the party will have to face its toughest challenges in its history, as the opposition are fast putting themselves up.
The pro-Pakatan PAS leaders flushed out in the recent party elections are prepared to set up Gerakan Harapan Baru, and this is poised to weaken PAS and tear the party apart while entrenching the division between the liberals and conservatives within the Malay society.
Perhaps GHB may not yet rock Umno’s formidable rural support base, it definitely provides an alternative for Malay voters disenchanted by Umno.
The Malay politics has now come to a crossroads. It is yet to be seen whether this will change the country’s political ecosystem and destiny for good, but it is positively the most crucial issue in the run-up to the 14th general elections.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of SuaraTV