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Najib faces his first test on Tuesday — Bangkok Post

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 6, 2009

Najib has been accused of taking kickbacks, and one of his political associates was put on trial for the murder of a Mongolian woman. The associate was acquitted, although not all are satisfied with that outcome.

THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

New Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will have little time to celebrate the culmination of decades of political ambition.

On Tuesday he faces a trio of by-elections — one for parliament and two for state assemblies — which are being described as a referendum on his leadership and the future of Umno, the principal member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and which conversely will be viewed as an indicator of the popularity of a rising opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, and his Keadilan (Peoples Justice) party.

In the 2008 general elections the opposition succeeded in whittling Barisan’s majority to below two-thirds, with Anwar rising above a concerted effort to discredit him which landed him in jail for the second time on sodomy charges.

Yesterday it was announced that former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad was rejoining Umno after a self-imposed exile from the party which stemmed from his evident dislike of Abdullah Badawi, who relinquished the prime minister post last week.

Dr Mahathir rejoining the fold seems to have been precipitated by Abdullah’s departure, the timing of which was no doubt influenced by the need to make a strong showing in the elections on Tuesday.

With a sliding economy, widespread allegations of corruption, and a failure to make good on promises of serious reform, it had been known for some time that Abdullah’s days were numbered. Now he has been replaced with a far right politician with plenty of detractors of his own, and who must find solutions to the same flagging economy and falling exports that bedevilled Abdullah.

Najib has been accused of taking kickbacks, and one of his political associates was put on trial for the murder of a Mongolian woman. The associate was acquitted, although not all are satisfied with that outcome.

But whether or not Najib will last until the next national elections scheduled for 2013 will likely depend first and foremost on his economic policy. He has already announced an aggressive government reform programme to stimulate investment, and last month he unveiled a $16.2 billion stimulus package.

But an even greater challenge perhaps is whether Najib will be able to steer a course toward healing the divisions in Malaysia’s multi-racial society, in which indigenous Malays comprise the majority. There are also large populations of ethnic Chinese and Indians, both with a long history in the country. Particularly among the Indian population, anger has been growing over laws that favour the Malay majority in business and education.

There is also widespread opposition, which includes a large segment of the Malay population, over the use of the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA), which Najib tried to placate his critics over by releasing 13 people held under the law as one of his first acts as PM.

Supposedly designed to thwart terrorists, the country’s security laws have been used to jail lawyers, political activists, a blogger and a member of parliament.

Najib has a solidly conservative background and in his younger days was accused of discrimination against both minority groups, and this could hurt him not only with those groups but with moderate and liberal Malays.

However, since it has become clear that he was Abdullah’s heir apparent Najib has gone to some pains to demonstrate his intention to take steps to end discrimination against minority groups.

In an interview with the BBC in Nov, 2008, Najib said the government would be more careful in future about the way it uses the security laws.

Still, some analysts feel Najib might be inclined to use harsh measures against dissidents, including misuse of the ISA.

In the same BBC interview, he expressed frustration with the Hindu activist network known as Hindraf, which has organised large public protests against the government. The group shows no sign of letting off on the pressure it has been putting on the government for change.

Tuesday’s elections should give some indication of whether a broad spectrum of Malaysians believe Najib can lead the country to renewed prosperity and greater unity, or on the other hand if Anwar’s hopes that he can push through a no-confidence motion or otherwise force the formation of a new government are realistic. — Bangkok Post

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