Najib statement causes a buzz

(The Malaysian Insider) – Every statement by Malaysian leaders is being dissected in these politically-fluid times, and hidden messages assigned to some of them.

A line by Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday has set the rumour mill on fire, suggesting that the deputy prime minister’s resolve to bide his time and wait for the transfer of power from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is getting weaker.

After attending Umno and Barisan Nasional supreme council meetings, Najib was asked if he would contest the party president’s position if he secured enough nominations from Umno divisions. He replied: “I will make a decision when the time comes. There is still time.”

These 13 words unleashed a gush of speculation. Najib’s supporters in Umno are wondering if it is a signal from the country’s number two to divisions to go ahead and nominate him for the top post in the party – the position that Abdullah says he wants to defend at the party polls in December.

Abdullah’s supporters suspect that this is the first sign of restlessness on the part of a deputy who has stated repeatedly that he is in favour of an orderly succession plan. And who has remained loyal to the PM even when critics wanted him to step down after Barisan Nasional’s dismal performance in Election 2008.

Several senior Umno politicians believe that the statement by

Najib is aimed at pressing Abdullah to come up with a specific date for the transfer of power. They noted that while Abdullah has anointed Najib as his successor, he has been silent on when the succession plan will take effect.

In several meetings between the two, the PM has not committed himself to any date, creating concern among Najib’s supporters that the hand-off could take place two or three years after the party polls in December. By that time, they believe, it will be too late to reform Umno or prepare for the next general elections in 2013. There is also a nagging feeling among them that confidence in government will erode further if Abdullah is in power beyond next year.

An Umno official told The Malaysian Insider: “I think if PM keeps quiet about the succession date, there will be a move to get divisions to nominate Najib for the party president’s position. Then it will be an untenable position for Abdullah and he may have to consider stepping down.”

As it stands now, the PM does not have a basket of choices. Politically, he is weak and has not cultivated the network of support on the ground that other Umno politicians have done over the years. He may have to give Najib a specific date for the transfer of power or face the possibility of a substantial number of the 191 divisions nominating the DPM for the top position in the party.

Already on the ground, party officials are talking about Najib teaming up with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

To contest for the party presidency, one needs to secure a minimum of 30% of nominations from 191 Umno divisions.

Watching on the sidelines with growing expectation are Pakatan Rakyat politicians. They are wondering whether the statement by Najib will drive a wedge in the relationship between the PM and DPM, and whether this will set off a fight between both camps. Such a scenario will create more uncertainty in the country and could persuade a number of BN MPs to seriously consider taking up Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s offer to cross over to the Opposition.

The way Opposition politicians see it, the allegations contained in a statutory declaration by Raja Petra Kamarudin on the supposed involvement by Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor in the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shariibuu have prompted Najib to re-think his tag-team partnership with Abdullah.

In his statutory declaration, Raja Petra alleged that he received a military intelligence report linking the DPM and his wife with the murder. He also said that a report had been made available to the PM. Abdullah denied receiving such a report and said that he did not believe that Najib or Rosmah were involved in the Altantuya case.

But there is a belief among some Najib supporters that such allegations will continue to be made against him unless strong action is taken against those making the claims. Such action has been missing so far.

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