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Malaysia: Najib’s Election Option – Analysis

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With the 1MDB and RM2.6 billion ‘political donation’ crises looming and anti-Najib forces led by former Prime Minister Mahathir aiming to remove him from office, there is one strategy option open to PM Najib Razak – a snap election, should he feel cornered.

This is a remote scenario, but one that is currently being drawn up now as a contingency in the PMs Department.

The forces of Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin, whom Najib fired as deputy prime minister, have largely been neutralized, as well as the opposition, primarily through the botched votes of no confidence and the attempt to block the second budget reading. No Barisan Nasional votes drifted over to the opposition, indicating that this group’s influence within UMNO/BN is negligible. Mahathir’s attempts to get BN members of parliament to cross the floor on the budget were disappointing. This shows how little influence the 90-year-old former premier really has within UMNO today.

Consequently, it appears that resistance to Najib has almost been totally destroyed before the UMNO General Assembly, due to be held next month.
What has made it worse, PAS votes may have drifted over to the BN side, through abstaining on these make-or-break votes as far as the opposition was concerned. Only 77 of the 88 opposition votes were cast against the budget, showing complete loss of discipline and strategy.

The opposition has fallen into disarray ever since the jailing of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim earlier this year. His jailing didn’t make him a martyr or garner any massive groundswell of support for the Pakatan Rakyat, as Anwar had hoped, rather it sowed the seeds of destruction for the coalition, which doesn’t even exist today.

Further the death of former Kelantan Chief Minister Nik Aziz has been very damaging. With the destruction of the progressive faction of PAS at party elections last July, and the Shura Council directive to cut ties with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party has destroyed the Pakatan Rakyat. With PAS now split into two, the animosity between with the new breakaway party Parti Amanah, led by Mat Sabu, is leading to more hate than there is between PAS and UMNO.

The death of Karpal Singh, the long-time DAP secretary-general, is allowing some of the younger generation to voice out more. However, the performance of Tony Pua has been an embarrassment to say the least. Lim Kit Siang has been neutralized with his six month suspension from parliament.

The opposition has zero strategy and the Mahathir forces appear lame. A man supposedly implicated in the murder of the Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, massive financial scandals and gross unpopularity actually appears stronger now than he did three months ago.

Voters are almost just as much disillusioned with the Pakatan Rakyat as they are with the Barisan Nasional. The only thing that the opposition has going for them is their good governance in Penang and Selangor. But the effects of the PAS/Amanah split in Kelantan and the “Kajang move” on voting intentions is yet to be seen. What‘s more, it looks like PAS is quickly distancing itself away from the opposition, and how Abdul Hadi Awang will play the next election is still a big question, but three-cornered electoral fights which will hurt the opposition are a possibility. How quickly PAS is losing ground to Amanah is not really known yet.

The only advantage of the PAS/Amanah split for the opposition is that they can leave behind the hudud bogey,. PAS’s efforts to implement harsh Islamic law in Kelantan that has caused so much damage to opposition coalition.

Although few political pundits foresee an early election, there are some definite signs that this option is on the table due to the way the 2016 budget was framed, and frp, some of the rhetoric the Prime Minister has been making at both the Gerakan and MIC AGMs recently.

It is the belief of the writer that if an election was held in the near future, it is plainly possible the Prime Minister could pull off a victory for UMNO and the BN.

There are great advantages for Najib should he call and win an election.

  1. He would be able to finally eliminate the anti-Najib forces from parliamentary positions within UMNO through his power to select candidates, and/or place candidates in unwinnable contests.
  2. There is no effective opposition leader at present,
  3. He would be able to put in a final blow to crush the opposition (except DAP) and weaken them electorally,
  4. Upon winning an election, he would have five years in office until 2021,
  5. 1MDB and the RM2.6 Billion ‘political donation’ issue would sink into the background of a new parliamentary term,
  6. An election would be a good method to ‘unify’ UMNO behind him, and
  7. The timing of an election sooner rather than later would put it out of the way before ‘harder’ economic times are upon us.

However, there are also a number of risks in the electoral strategy:

  1. Anything can happen in politics, especially an election,
  2. There is great likely of sabotage within UMNO in many quarters, all across the country,
  3. Najib is going through a period of intense low popularity (although this does not necessary mean it will be reflected in voting patterns), and
  4. The GST and devaluation of the ringgit are already causing great suffering in the electorate.

Having an early election is a major effort that would require great financial resources, organization, and effort. It’s also high risk, but the rewards would be great should Najib pull off a victory.

Certainly some signs of an election exist; the recent budget could be framed as an election budget, a national election could be coordinated with the Sarawak election due next year, the recent rhetoric coming from Najib concerning Chinese are not ‘pendatang’ to Malaysia, a divided opposition at present, the arrests of opposition members, and even the visit of US President Barak Obama to Malaysia has put out a positive signal for Najib.

Najib doesn’t need an election to defeat any external opposition. An election is the best method for him to eliminate opposition within his own party UMNO. Najib cannot win GE-14, but the opposition can lose it, as we can see state by state.

Perlis: The BN looks set to retain the state of Perlis and hold three parliamentary seats. Parti Amanah Negeri will probably have difficulty organizing themselves in time for the next election, leaving the Arau Parliamentary seat open for the cashed up UMNO warlord Shahidan Kassim to hold. The only surprise in Perlis could be in the Kangar parliamentary seat if locally popular PKR state member Chan Ming Kai opts to run in the seat. Najib will most probably select a new chief minister candidate to replace the unpopular and lacklustre performer Azlan Man, who has put the local Chinese community offside.

Kedah: The Prime Ministers Department put in massive resources before the last election to win-over Kedah from a weak PAS chief Minister Azizan Abdul Razak. Kedah people have been very reluctant to accept ‘outsiders’ as chief ministers and Mukhriz Mahathir is sharing the same affliction. There is even some probability that Najib may select another candidate as chief minister this time round as well, especially as Mukhriz is the son of Mahathir. UMNO holds 10 parliamentary seats in Kedah which should stand firm. PKR holds four and PAS one. With poor organization on the ground, PKR and PAS seats could be vulnerable. The Alor Seter seat may best be defended by a DAP candidate to hold on this time round. The DAP may be able to pick up three state seats, not enough to wrest government from the BN.

Penang: With a good showing Pakatan could pick up three BN seats in Penang, thereby wiping out all BN seats within that state.

Perak: Perak will be an interesting state with a number of seats in for possible change. Bagan Serai will probably change hands to the opposition. Last election Kuala Kangsar didn’t turn over to the opposition because there was a three way contest. This election the result may be different. Expect Bukit Gantang to see a three way contest with PAS and Amanah involved. Two other seats that have a remote chance of changing hands are Bagan Datok and Tanjong Malim.

Selangor: The Selangor Chief Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali is still holding the Pakatan Rakyat coalition together in running the government. Due to the delicate balance of seats, it is necessary for him to do so. How Azmin faces the next election is something that even he hasn’t thought through at this point. Although the effects of the ‘Kajang move’ are yet to be felt electorally, there is a high probability that the Pakatan coalition will hold Selangor and that not many seats will change between Pakatan and BN. The complexity of the situation for Azmin is that PAS won state seats in constituencies with a high proportion of Chinese voters. PAS cannot rely on this support this time around and it would be assumed that Amanah would take them over. PAS discussions with PERKASA and UMNO, along with their unpopular Hudud policy among Selangor voters will probably make the party irrelevant. DAP could also pick up another two state seats, Semenyih and Kota Damasara which would make them the dominant party in the state chamber. Federally, BN stands to lose three seats, Hulu Selangor, Sungei Besar, and Kuala Selangor if there is even a slight swing away from them. Hulu Selangor is particularly susceptible, held by the MIC where two independents spoiled the opposition vote last time around.

Negeri Sembilan: Although there has been some reported discontent at branch level within UMNO, there are unlikely to be any major seat changes within Negeri Sembilan, unless massive sabotage occurs.

Melaka: There are unlikely to be any seat changes in Melaka.

Johor: Johor is a potential Achilles heel for the BN. Any swing against the BN could easily lead to a loss of up to 7 seats. The Muyhiddin factor will be crucial here, and it is unlikely that he would be running for parliament under the BN banner. The winners here would be the DAP.

Pahang: Najib’s home state of Pahang will be another battlefield with the possibility of five seats changing hands. At risk for the BN are the seats of Bentong, Bera, Cameron Highlands, and Lipis. PAS holds Temerloh by a very small margin and a three way contest could bring this seat back to the BN.

Terengganu: The vote in Terengganu will be more interesting to see what happens to PAS. Most PAS seats, except for Kuala Terengganu were won by slender margins. Three way contests in Teregganu could be a disaster for PAS/Amanah. Being PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang’s home state, it will be interesting what voters think about his political positioning over the last few months. UMNO could even gain seats in Terengganu.

Kelantan: The nightmare scenario for Pakatan would be where PAS and Amanah contest each seat and the BN wins by default. That could wrest the state and allow to BN to pick up nine extra seats in the most optimistic scenario for them. This is an Achilles heel for the Pakatan Harapan. In a straight fight scenario, PAS/Amanah could pick up to three BN seats, Machang, Ketereh, and Kuala Krai. With the retirement of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the seat would also be up for grabs by Pas/Amanah.

Sabah: The division of the opposition in Sabah is Chief Minister Musa Aman’s biggest asset. STAR, SAPP, and the Pakatan parties are running against each other ensuring a BN win. If three and four cornered contests could be avoided seats like Kota Maruda held by federal minister Maximus Ongkili could fall. Chief Minister Musa Aman has done a fair job governing Sabah and without any agreement within the opposition parties, there should be no upsets.

Sarawak: According to Medeka Centre research, the approval rating for the new Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem is 75%, while 68% are satisfied with the state government’s performance. Approval rates of the CM are 68% within the Chinese community, and if these figures are any indication, it will be difficult for the opposition to make many inroads in Sarawak.

Federal Territories: It would be hard to see Putra Jaya changing hands. However within the Klang Valley both Setiawangsa and Titiwangsa are two possible opposition gains. Labuan should remain BN.

The current parliament comprises 133 BN seats (88 UMNO, PBB 14, MCA 7, PRS 6, PBS 4, MIC 3, SPDP 3, UPKO 3, Gerakan2, PBRS 1, and SUPP1), opposition Pakatan Harapan, comprising (DAP 37, PKR 29, PAN 60, with other opposition parties including (PAS 14, PSM 1, TERAS 1, and independent 2). A new parliament after an election will probably look something like 124 seats for the BN and 98 seats for the opposition. However this doesn’t factor in the current troubles for Pas/Amanah in Kelantan and Terengganu, where BN could make massive gains, if three way contests occur.

If the three corner fight scenario occurs, PAS could deliver the BN a landslide victory.

One must remember that in Malaysia there is very little polling done, and the few public polls that come out are biased towards urban voters. So, unlike other ‘democracies.’ in Malaysia most political pundits and strategists are almost blind to public voter intentions, which makes any predictions difficult.

The only hope for both the opposition and anti-Najib forces to bring down the Prime Minister is through an election. However the above analysis shows that this would not be an easy task. An opposition win would require a new leader to appear out of nowhere, a rapid deployment of a branch network for Parti Amanah Negari, trust in the DAP with more seats allocated to them this time round, a high level of sabotage within UMNO itself, and a minimum of three corner electoral fights with PAS.

Najib has complete control of the government, judiciary, and police. All checks and balances have been broken down, which makes him secure. Short of a revolt emanating from branch level, nothing can remove Najib. Any hints of a revolt are being suppressed as I write. This is his only Achilles heel.

This election, Najib will have to carefully select his candidates and pay people to undertake the electioneering, rather than rely upon party workers. He has a number of dirty tricks up his shelve like potentially prosecuting Nurul Izzah Anwar for her fopar over her meeting with Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s daughter Jacel Kiram.

An election will be necessary for Najib at some time in the future to safeguard the business interests of his family and cronies, which is extensive. This is so with nobody to trust in handing the reins of power to, and no possibility of immunity from prosecution.

An election is more a Mahathir strategy than Najib’s style. He ran a full term after taking over from former Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi back in 2009. The option is ready in case it becomes a necessity, and Najib is ready.

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

One thought on “Malaysia: Najib’s Election Option – Analysis

  • Avatar
    November 23, 2015 at 2:48 am
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    I dont think najib will win in sabah…last election show how hard for umno grassroot campaigning and even some umno MP lose vote in the strong umno area. With thia new scandal and gst thats doesnt helpful..even.rural hardcore right wing umno now disatisfied with najib.anif coz chief minister.when najib told sabahan that he give more fund to sabah yet the fund only circulate among CM people.which many umno member desatisfied with current state government. If there no changing leadership in sabah 75% chance that umno will lose if najib dissolved parliment now.

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