Is “Offense” the PM’s best defence against a weakening economy

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    From university undergraduates to British civil servants, from Proton employees to Indonesian TV viewers – all have witnessed the Prime Minister Najib and his close allies step up the attack on ex-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir.

    In fact, The Rembau Times has counted 8 different occasions in August 2016 alone where the Prime Minister has resorted to using the public forum to attack Tun Dr Mahathir. These attacks were mostly made through speeches delivered when officiating UMNO division gatherings, officiating inter-governmental meetings, statements from his personal blog and even when addressing undergraduates from local universities at locations. These attacks average about one in every four days.

    Date   Title Media Location Audience Link
    27-Aug Former national leader quarrelsome Borneo Post

    (online)

    Cameron Highlands UMNO Division

    (Cameron Highlands)

    Link
    21-Aug Najib: Dr M is a ‘control freak’ The Star Kepala Batas, Penang Umno division
    (Tasek Gelugor)
    Link
    20-Aug Un-Islamic’ to cross the line, Najib tells Dr M The Star Tumpat, Kelantan Umno division
    (Tumpat)
    Link
    19-Aug Malaysian PM Najib takes new dig at Mahathir Straits Times
    (Singapore)
    Putrajaya Civil Servants from Commonwealth countries Link
    18-Aug Najib: I won’t criticise my successor openly Bernama Putrajaya Undergraduates from local public / private universities Link
    12-Aug They called Dr M ‘head of thieves’, Najib notes similarities Malaysiakini From Personal Blog Mainstream Media Link
    08-Aug Bukan Mahathir tentukan kedudukan saya Utusan Melayu Seri Manjung, Perak Umno division
    (Lumut)
    Link
    06-Aug Dr. Mahathir mahu saya jadi PM yang ikut arahannya – Najib Utusan Melayu Jakarta, Indonesia Interview with MetroTV Link
    25-Jun Najib sacks critics, cuts funding to Mahathir Nikkei Asian Review Media Report Mainstream Media Link
    14-Jun Najib: Proton’s golden era will be restored without Dr Mahathir The Star Putrajaya Launch of 4th Gen Proton Perdana Link
    07-Apr Najib: $14.5b not missing as claimed by Dr Mahathir AsiaOne From Personal Blog Mainstream Media Link
    15-Apr Najib aide: Saudi confirmation proves Mahathir’s allegations are false AsiaOne Statement by DS Tengku Shariffudin Mainstream Media Link
    23-Mar Lawsuit shows Dr M out of ammo, says Umno minister Malay Mail Statement by DS Salleh Said Keruak Mainstream Media Link

     

    These attacks mark a “surge” in Najib’s offensive against one who was much respected by the Malay community and the UMNO grassroots. It is perhaps most likely designed to systematically deconstruct Dr Mahathir amongst the UMNO grassroots by equating Dr Mahathir’s criticisms of Dato Seri Najib’s personal scandals to that of a retired politician seeking to retain control over affairs of state.

    However, even though public criticism of Dato Seri Najib amongst ranking UMNO members is virtually non-existent, this strategy of attacking a once highly respected statesman has neither been accepted nor endorsed by senior Cabinet colleagues.

    In fact, one of the hottest rising stars of the Cabinet, the Second Finance Minister, Dato Seri Haji Johari Abdul Ghani, went so far as to offer disapproval to this strategy, albeit obliquely, when he openly declared “Who does not love Tun Mahathir?” when officiating the Cheras UMNO Division meeting.

    Image result for johari abdul ghani

    Malaysia’s Second Finance Minister openly declared his admiration for Tun Dr Mahathir

    Dato Seri Johari or “Abang Joe” as he is called in UMNO circles certainly has a point.
    Tun Dr Mahathir was a strong leader for the Malays and pursued the Malay agenda for almost the entire period when he was Prime Minister. As a result, many Malays were able to advance leaps and bounds through opportunities through tertiary education, civil service employments and business contracts. In fact, Dr Mahathir’s period of leadership marked the high points of Malay pride as their leader was feared domestically and commanded respect from many nations, especially from the Southern Hemisphere and the Middle East.

    With the recent announcement by United States Attorney General, Lorreta E. Lynch on the use of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (KARI), Tun Dr Mahathir’s accusations against 1MDB are now factually correct. In fact, once high profile 1MDB CEO, Mr Arul Kanda Kandasamy, who in 2015, used to be quoted almost every other week, has this year been largely excluded from any media coverage.

    However, even though the Prime Minister’s image has been heavily tarnished, his hold on power remains strong as ever. The roots of the Prime Minister’s power lies in the effective use of the “bogeyman” in the form of the DAP as a threat to Malay dominance in politics, a disjointed Opposition without any fresh ideas, vast resources available to the Prime Minister at his disposal, the established culture of patronage within UMNO and the civil service, the swift purging of critics from within the ruling party and the emasculation of public institutions, which ostentatiously took place during Tun Dr Mahathir’s 22 year reign as Prime Minister and a larger society polarised by race and religion. In fact Michael E. Porter, the renowned Management Consultant famous for introducing the “Porter 5 Forces” model in explaining economic profiles of industries would conclude that the combination of factors present in modern day Malaysia indicates that Najib current position as virtually unassailable.

    In fact, not only has the Prime Minister achieved unrivalled power through the Malaysian power structure, he even demonstrated his “win-ability” at two recently concluded by-elections which were held in the Malay Heartlands and some suspect, the last barometer before a general election.

    However, as is often the case in traditional UMNO attack politics, the risk is that continuing to attack Dr Mahathir over and over again, as Dato Seri Najib is currently doing, may stir discontentment. In fact, the public may perceive the Prime Minister as lacking in any fresh ideas and failing to articulate a national vision, and instead resorting to Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BRIM) to win support.

    Even though currently it seems a certain win for UMNO and Barisan Nasional if the elections were held today, there are larger issues of governance and economic headwinds that have not been addressed. The current account balance for the second quarter of 2016 fell 63% to RM 1.8 billion from RM 5.0 billion a quarter ago. Capital outflows may accelerate on the back of renewed volatility in oil prices which could further put pressure on the Ringgit. And further cost cutting by Petronas may lead to credit deterioration in the bank loans to the Oil and Gas sector, which could crimp credit creation and lead to increased bankruptcies elsewhere. The Government under Dato Seri Najib appears to have “hands off” policy with respect to the economy, preferring instead to focus only on the political agenda and ignore these looming threats. Given the volatility already seen in 2016, a sharp deceleration in the domestic economy may yet prove to be disastrous politically.

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