Troubled time for Najib

Troubled time for Najib
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad arrived for a buka puasa gathering with the Proton Workers' Union in kampung style attire - white baju Melayu top over a burgundy-and-grey kain pelikat, songkok and sandals.

He looked rather homely but Dr Mahathir has this certain flair in whatever he wears and which stands him apart from the rest.

It was not the first time the Proton advisor was breaking fast with the company's union and one of them had even wrapped his arm around the senior's shoulders as they posed for a selfie.

The former Premier seems to be out and about almost everyday. He has also been spotted at a number of Ramadan bazaars, from Kampung Baru to Shah Alam, where he told curious onlookers that he was looking for "popia" (spring rolls).

A day before the Proton event, he had dressed up for buka puasa with the folk at Perkim or the Muslim Welfare Association. Everyone there was younger than him but he looked younger than many of them.

The way Dr Mahathir is going, it is hard to believe he will be turning 90 in a few days' time. The distinctive traits are still there - that certain insouciance, his way of taking in his surroundings at a glance and that soft way of walking, as though he is treading on eggshells.

But he has been like a bull in a china shop when taking on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. His attacks against Najib have eased a little since the start of Ramadan but it is business as usual on his Chedet blog.

Umno leaders are resigned to the fact that he will not stop. But many of them were taken aback when he agreed with the decision by the Umno supreme council to postpone the party elections.

It was the first time in a while he had been on the same page.

Well, it would be unseemly if he disagreed. The practice of postponing party polls began during his time when the quest to win party posts became more urgent than winning the general election.

The party polls, which are due by October next year, was postponed by 18 months. It has taken a lot of pressure off the Umno leadership.

Those holding key party posts are naturally quite happy that their political life-span has been extended. But those down the line are not too happy. They think the Umno divisions, which will start to hold their AGMS from July 28, are entitled to their say.

The rumblings on the ground were loud enough for Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (pic) to clear the air about the polls deferment.

He had mooted the postponement during the supreme council meeting and he was aware of the mixed reaction to the decision. He told reporters in Seremban that he wished to take responsibility.

It is quite apparent why Mat Hasan, as he is also known, was keen to defer the polls. His state is seen as "borderline" for Barisan Nasional which has 22 seats against 14 seats by the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat. Another five more seats to the other side and Negri Sembilan would have fallen.

Mat Hasan's concern is that Umno politicians would put aside everything for the Umno polls and if they lost, they would sabotage the party in the general election.

"There is no point winning party posts but doing badly in the general election," he said.

Apparently, two other Mentris Besar who sit on the supreme council had pushed for the the Umno election to take place next year. But the majority of the supreme council went along with Mat Hasan's proposal to defer the polls.

The idea to postpone was already in the air when the Umno division secretaries held their retreat in Janda Baik a couple of weeks ago. The discussion spilled over onto the Telegram chat group of the division heads and there was no stopping it after that.

Thus, it is untrue that the move was, as one Umno politician put it, "to jam Muhyiddin's plan". The postponement was seen as a setback for deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who had mooted the idea at the Umno general assembly last year.

Muhyiddin had meant well when he floated the idea. The polls would enable younger and more energetic faces to move up in the divisions and the party would have a wider choice of candidates for the general election.

But so much has happened since and the postponement may actually be better for Muhyiddin.

There had been talk Muhyiddin would be challenged in the Umno polls. The man everyone is looking at to challenge Muhyiddin is vice-president and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is very popular in the party.

In fact, Ahmad Zahid's supporters were rather disappointed over news of the postponement. They think their man has missed a golden opportunity.

However, the Najib circle claimed that even if the polls were allowed to proceed, he would have prevented a fight for the No.2 post.

It would have been too divisive for the party and the gentleman in him would not want to see his deputy go down in such a way.

The deferred polls decision had added to what many saw as a turning point for Najib following months of attacks by Dr Mahathir and by the UK-based Sarawak Report group of activitists, both of whom are joined by a symbiotic quest to topple Najib via the 1MDB issue.

Sarawak Report had suffered a setback after its sources of information on 1MDB was compromised following the arrest of former Petro Saudi executive and alleged blackmailer Xavier Andre Justo a fortnight ago.

Sarawak Report had apparently been using tampered information from an alleged blackmailer.

But it has come back with a vengeance, making even more serious allegations about Najib, claiming that millions of ringgit were credited into his personal bank account.

The accusations were released on the same day as a closely similar report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the reports have since been picked up by news agencies and newspapers in the region.

The well-known blogger Ahirudin Attan also known as "Rocky" has highlighted many sensational stories on Malaysian leaders cooked up by Sarawak Report and which later turned out to be nonsense and lies. He blogged under rockybru.com.my

As such, the allegations by the people in the Sarawak Report were less of an issue than that carried in the WSJ report.

The concern of the government is the WSJ. There has been an immediate stream of denials from the Prime Minister's Office and also from 1MDB which denied ever transferring money into such an account.

Ihsan Perdana, the company WSJ accused of transferring money into Najib's account has also denied doing anything like that.

WSJ's accusations caused ripples because it is an established international publication. Yet, it had made such grave accusations against the leader of a country based on "un-named government sources". It was quite sensational journalism.

It was evident that those who want to bring down Najib are prepared to go to the extremes.

"I don't want to jump to conclusions but this whole thing smells like some grand design to discredit Najib. They take a few facts, add curry powder, salt and pepper and make accusations," said Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.

Many in the Umno circles find the allegations questionable. On one hand, they think that no one would be so stupid to allow that; on the other hand, it is the WSJ making the allegations.

But the allegations are very damaging because it is the first time the Prime Minister has been directly implicated to 1MDB's money trail.

The disturbing thing is that Najib's circle believe Dr Mahathir had a hand in all this. If that is true, it will be quite tragic because Dr Mahathir used to condemn foreign elements trying to control the country's affairs during his years in power.

Najib has to act swiftly and decisively to clear his name. He needs to make himself very clear and not to leave questions hanging in people's minds.

He also should not waste time to take legal action against the WSJ if the allegations are not true.

Bank Negara also has to step in to clear the air. WSJ had claimed that the alleged monetary transfers amounted to billions of ringgit.

These are gigantic sums and the regulating body would have been immediately alerted on such movements.

"At the moment, it is sheer allegations. But the way it is handled and explained will determine and shape public opinion. It is important for the PM to deny and explain without delay," said a Najib insider.

Dr Mahathir faced more than his share of accusations of wrongdoing and abuse of power in his heydays but he did not believe in legal suits.

"Najib needs to go the Lee Kuan Yew way - sue them and clear his name," said the above Najib insider.

Najib's survival is once again on the line and the next few weeks will be critical. Does this cat with nine lives have more lives left?

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