Blogger attack on Pemandu 'may be strategic swipe at Najib'

Blogger attack on Pemandu 'may be strategic swipe at Najib'

MALAYSIA - A FAMILIAR political drama is unfolding ahead of the internal elections for Umno, the dominant party in Malaysia's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

In recent weeks, several pro-Umno bloggers - including Mr Ahirudin Attan (who uses the pseudonym Rocky's Bru) and Mr Syed Akbar Ali (OutSyed The Box) - have hit out at Pemandu, a national reform agency set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The bloggers ran a series of complaints - which they claimed had appeared anonymously in their inboxes - branding Pemandu staff as grossly overpaid consultants who are running the country on Datuk Seri Najib's behalf or as supporters of the opposition.

Also, a senior staff member at Pemandu was singled out and accused of being a party girl who had been fined for drink-driving.

Last week, the agency came to her defence, saying all staff were screened for their capabilities and work ethics before being hired.

The bloggers are influential as they have close ties with Umno politicians. They are also known to favour former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Their scathing criticism of Pemandu has made some wonder if it was an attempt to make Mr Najib appear a weak leader, in much the same way that his predecessor Tun Ahmad Abdullah Badawi had been made to look.

The timing, according to analysts, could not be more conspicuous. A month from now, Umno will hold its landmark elections - for the first time, regular party members will be able to vote for its top office bearers, including the president. In the past, the regional divisions would send representatives to vote on their behalf.

Umno elections are among the most closely watched events in the country. Some say they are more important than the general election as they determine the Umno president who, by convention, will become prime minister if the party wins the general election.

"The bloggers' attack against Pemandu appears to be a ploy to discredit Mr Najib," Mr Wong Chin Huat, a political analyst at Penang Institute, told The Straits Times. "A weakened Najib opens up gateways for his challengers to move in closer to the top position."

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