Sunday, June 14, 2015

Unity Bid to Drive Malaysia’s PM Najib from Power? FROM ASIA SENTINEL

Unity Bid to Drive Malaysia’s PM Najib from Power?

Unity Bid to Drive Malaysia’s PM Najib from Power?
Razaleigh redux??
Long-shot attempt to recruit onetime political force Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

With Malaysia’s national ruling coalition government virtually paralyzed by scandal, Prime Minister Najib’s opponents in his own party are said to be seeking to put together a unity government headed by onetime Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh, 78, as prime minister.

Razaleigh has not been a significant political force in Malaysia for 28 years. Reportedly, the current deputy prime minister and deputy United Malays National Organization vice president, Muhyiddin Yassin, 67, would ascend to the party presidency under this scenario. Traditionally, the prime minister has always served as UMNO president. The unity bid would split the two jobs, at least temporarily. 

The embattled Najib has been able to keep the cadres in line with a river of government money that pours into their pockets through rent-seeking contracts, make-work jobs and other goodies from the 1MDB Foundation, which he controls, to the tune of an estimated RM1 billion, a source told Asia Sentinel. He has engineered repeated informal votes of confidence and cajoled party wheelhorses to make public statements of support.  Indeed, his sway may be such that despite his troubles, he can prevail again.

Seeking a way out 

But UMNO party elders, particularly those aligned with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,  are growing increasingly desperate to rid the government of him after a long string of deepening scandals. Many are worried that the workings of government are being ignored as the prime minister twists and turns to try to shake off his enemies. The Malaysian ringgit has been losing value steadily since last September, drifting down sharply to RM3.70 to the US dollar in May as international investors have lost confidence over the country’s political mess.

Reportedly a meeting was held at Razaleigh’s home in Kuala Lumpur on June 11 with a group headed by Daim Zainuddin, a close ally of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Daim, also a one-time finance minister, is said to have sought the meeting to attempt to persuade the septuagenarian lawmaker to take on the task. A second meeting is said to be scheduled for this weekend to discuss whether to seek a vote of no confidence in Parliament next week. 

Razaleigh has periodically been mentioned as a unity candidate for months, but few have given him much chance of ascending to power, and the current attempts to recruit the apparently reluctant politician, UMNO’s longest-serving MP, may be running into roadblocks.  But some party leaders, while continuing to profess loyalty, are deeply concerned that allegations of massive scandal are wrecking the party’s chances for the 2018 general election.
Razaleigh “would be totally acceptable,” said a well-informed source in Kuala Lumpur. “But how quickly he wants to move, I wouldn’t know. In the past he has hesitated.” Another source also said Razaleigh is hesitating this time as well on whether to make the bid. His wife, Noor Yvonne Abdullah, died on June 4. According to another source, her death, from multiple myeloma, sad as it is, frees him from caring for her and would allow him to concentrate on the country.

Najib has been crippled by allegations of corruption and massive mismanagement of 1Malaysia Development Bhd, a state-funded investment company established at his behest in 2009. Allegedly a young playboy financier, Jho Low Taek, was the brains behind the development of the firm and Najib is its chief economic adviser. 1MDB, as it is known, has run up RM42 billion [US$11.18 billion at current exchange rates] of liabilities, an unknown amount unfunded. One source said that as the scandal deepens, 1MDB sources are starting to think of saving themselves and that they are going to the press with additional details.

The government has been scrambling around selling 1MDB assets at inflated prices to other government agencies, borrowing massive amounts and seeking other ways to continue payments on the debt in an effort to forestall what many are worried could become a huge crisis that could threaten the country’s financial standing.

At the same time, Najib has appeared almost paralyzed. He suffered a huge blow to his prestige last week by ducking out on a rally of 2,500 people he had called to answer questions when Mahathir appeared, a no-show that observers in Kuala Lumpur said did incalculable damage.  He also delayed a trip to visit earthquake devastation in Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu region, instead flying first to Saudi Arabia on business that according to speculation was connected to attempts to find money to stave off the 1MDB disaster.
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