Najib 'missed chance on TV to erase doubts raised'

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a TV interview on April 9.

He went on television to rebut his critics and their charges one by one, but many who heard Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday night said that he offered no concrete answers and instead missed the opportunity to establish his authority.

Analysts and at least one senior member of the ruling party Umno told The Straits Times that Datuk Seri Najib's somewhat scripted response to the charges hurled at him, especially by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, did little to erase the doubts that have been raised.

"That was an interview where no questions were asked and no answers given," Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of policy think-tank Ideas, said of the hour-long programme on Umno-controlled TV3.

A senior Umno official's assessment was: "The answers given were nothing new, so he might as well not have spoken."

The New Straits Times (NST) ran the headline "Najib rebuts critics" on its front page, while its sister publication Berita Harian said that Mr Najib had specifically answered Dr Mahathir's questions.

The biggest English-language daily The Star stressed that "despite calls for him to step down, he (Mr Najib) will continue to lead the country and Umno as long as he has the people and the party's mandate".

Sin Chew Daily ran the headline "Najib's moderate response to Mahathir: I only answer to the people" with excerpts of the interview on the front page.

Mr Najib has faced increasing pressure in the past six months, including from Umno hardliners, some of whom had gravitated towards Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years.

Dr Mahathir's attacks focused on the debt-laden state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as well as the real motive for the 2006 murder of Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Her death has been linked to alleged kickbacks involved in the 2002 purchase of two French submarines.

Mr Najib did not appear to live up to the keen anticipation - many found him guarded in his responses, careful to state his respect for Dr Mahathir, and rehashing answers given previously.

His assertion that 1MDB has more assets than liabilities only raises the question why it nearly failed to repay its debt recently.

Also, his insistence that there is no evidence of his involvement in Ms Shaariibuu's case failed to wash with many.

"He still hasn't answered the questions raised, so nothing is solved, nothing has changed," said Datuk Abdul Kadir Jasin, a key figure in Dr Mahathir's camp who was NST's chief editor when the latter was in power.

"He (Mahathir) has been raising questions since 2009 when Najib became PM during their regular 'four-eyes' meeting but he (Najib) has never responded satisfactorily," he said.

Umno MP Nur Jazlan Mohamad said that while members are closing ranks behind the PM, "the issues against him are personal and can only be answered by him".

"The true test of his leadership is when the general election is held and whether people believe him or not," said the MP, who heads Parliament's respected Public Accounts Committee.

Meanwhile, Mr Najib's lawyers have sent a letter to Democratic Action Party MP Nga Kor Ming over an allegedly libellous Facebook posting that depicted Mr Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor as the prime minister.

The letter demanded an apology from Mr Nga, failing which he would be sued.

Additional reporting by Amy Chew.


This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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