Horrible year for Malaysian PM

Horrible year for Malaysian PM

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak must have thought the worst was over when he survived his first general election in May 2013 by the skin of his teeth.

But after three Malaysia-linked plane disasters and the country's worst flooding in memory, Datuk Seri Najib will be glad to see the back of 2014.

To say that it has been a tough year for him would be a gross understatement.

When not being criticised for letting the ball drop - at times literally, such as when he was shown golfing with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii while hundreds of thousands of Malaysians back home fled rising floodwaters - he faced revolt from his own Umno party over reforms that failed to bring back their electoral dominance.

Photos of him on pristine greens with the American leader could not have contrasted more starkly with the mud-dominated images coming from the east coast of peninsular Malaysia where more than 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

Analysts drew parallels to Mr Najib's predecessor Abdullah Badawi opening a nasi kandar restaurant in Perth in December 2006, at a time when Johor was hit by severe floods.

Mr Abdullah was swiftly ousted after the 2008 General Election, which saw the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) lose its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time.

"The damage is much worse than for Abdullah - the floods are much worse. He (Najib) was warned about the flooding and chose to play golf," said Ms Bridget Welsh from the Centre for East Asia Democratic Studies at the National Taiwan University.

It capped a year in which Mr Najib appeared to be under siege on all fronts. He faced international media criticisms over the handling of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that went missing in March, flak from politicians on both sides of the divide over alleged billion-dollar financial scandals in his 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) investment agency, and unhappiness over his pledge to repeal the controversial Sedition Act, which he eventually abandoned.

When Beijing-bound MH370 disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8, Malaysia was roundly criticised for a confused and uncoordinated response. Mr Najib himself was late on the scene, appearing two weeks later to announce that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

To his credit, he went some way to setting things right after July's brazen shooting down of MH17 over a war-torn region in Ukraine. This time, he took the bull by the horns and negotiated directly with pro-Moscow rebels to gain access to the wreckage.

In a New Year's address yesterday in which he called 2014 "one of the most difficult years in Malaysia's history", he pointed out that "Malaysia was able to get the breakthrough that no one else could - securing the return of the bodies and black boxes from MH17".

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