Why It Matters

Najib tightens grip on power

Malaysia's ruling party Umno sacked two of its rebel leaders last Friday, a move that allowed Prime Minister Najib Razak to further consolidate power by stifling internal dissent and empowering loyalists.

The sackings of former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and former Kedah chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir came after almost one year of public criticisms from both men against the Malaysian Premier over allegations of corruption. Datuk Seri Najib, who is embroiled in controversies involving troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad and some US$700 million (S$949 million) found in his bank accounts, has denied wrongdoing.

Although Tan Sri Muhyiddin was fired from the Cabinet last July and Datuk Seri Mukhriz was forced to resign from the Kedah post in February, Mr Najib had held back from immediately expelling both veteran politicians over concerns of an uproar from the Umno grassroots.

However, Umno's leadership had since called for the party's disciplinary committee to act over the duo's close dalliance with the opposition in promoting former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Save Malaysia campaign.

 

Today, emboldened by support for the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) - which chalked up recent victories in a state election and two by-elections - and with the waning influence of Tun Dr Mahathir, Mr Najib can safely act against top dissenters without creating a massive backlash. The move also signifies Mr Najib's assertive grip on power, and offers an example of the fate of unwelcome critics.

Yesterday, in another sign of his renewed strength, he promoted his allies in government by giving them more senior Cabinet positions.

The removal of dissenters resolves one nagging problem on Mr Najib's checklist, allowing him to focus on preparing the BN coalition for the next general election, which many are touting could be held as early as next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Najib tightens grip on power'. Print Edition | Subscribe