KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who will assume the country’s top job next month, pulled off a political coup by wresting control of the opposition held state of Perak via the defection of lawmakers.
Perak is one of four Malaysian states that fell to the Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition alliance in last year’s general elections.
The Perak coup will increase confidence among the National Front coalition and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), its mainstay, that the 55 year-old Najib is a power to be reckoned with.
Prior to Thursday, Najib had run two by-election campaigns in which the National Front coalition had lost. The latest poll from the independent Merdeka Center put Najib’s approval rating at 41 percent, less than the 46 percent enjoyed by incumbent Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
WHAT DOES PERAK SAY ABOUT NAJIB’S APPROACH TO POLITICS?
The eldest son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, the aristocratic Najib became the youngest MP in Malaysia when the 22 year-old won his deceased father’s seat in 1976. Najib is known to be a savvy politician and a meticulous but cautious manager.
The wresting of Perak by attracting defectors from the opposition shows his willingness to play political hardball. It is a trait that markedly separates him from Abdullah, who opened up the democratic space in Malaysia but saw his mandate disappear in the 2008 elections when the National Front lost its two-thirds parliament majority and five states.
Najib’s ability to outmanoeuver the opposition in Perak displays an ability to stage fights on his own terms. Abdullah was passive in the face of attacks from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It is also a morale booster ahead of party polls in Najib’s UMNO.
WILL NAJIB EMPLOY MAHATHIR’S STRONGMAN POLITICAL TACTICS?
Najib’s wresting of Perak displays autocratic tendencies similar to the combative political style of Mahathir, who employed virtually the same strategy in 1994 when the National Front governing coalition wrested control of the then opposition state of Sabah.
The narrow victory of an opposition government in Sabah that year was followed by mass defections of lawmakers from the ruling Parti Bersatu Sabah and the National Front subsequently returned to power in Sabah.
Two of the four Perak lawmakers who resigned from the state government to join the National Front have corruption charges against them pending in court.
This has led to questions about whether Najib will become a leader with no qualms about how he wins.
HOW IMPORTANT IS PERAK TO NAJIB’S POLITICAL FORTUNES?
Many Malaysians will be upset that the National Front’s gains came via the resignations of lawmakers instead of elections. That said, criticism from the opposition rings hollow as Anwar tried to use defections to engineer a path to power in September last year, and failed.
But the criticisms will not matter much for Najib, who has more immediate priorities such as implementing economic policies to save Malaysia from its first recession in eight years.
For UMNO members eager for strong leadership following the party’s two by-election losses in the last five months, Perak will be an important morale booster that increases confidence in Najib’s leadership in the run-up to the UMNO assembly next month and strengthen his control of the party.
Source : Reuters