Testing times ahead for PM Najib

Malaysian PM Najib Razak at the Khazanah Megatrends Forum in Kuala Lumpur last week. He is under pressure from a growing number of establishment figures about his alleged role in a graft scandal at 1MDB.
Malaysian PM Najib Razak at the Khazanah Megatrends Forum in Kuala Lumpur last week. He is under pressure from a growing number of establishment figures about his alleged role in a graft scandal at 1MDB.PHOTO: REUTERS

He faces possible no-confidence motion and key votes on 2016 Budget and TPP trade deal

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak is coming up against the toughest test of his political career when Parliament reconvenes next week, as he is facing questions from a growing number of establishment figures about his alleged role in a graft scandal at a state investment fund.

Datuk Seri Najib's tight grip on the Umno party has kept him in power despite public anger over alleged graft and financial mismanagement at state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board the Prime Minister chairs.

But that grip appears to be loosening, and his position could become precarious if he loses some crucial upcoming votes in Parliament, analysts say.

Some senior Umno leaders, including former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, joined forces with influential former premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on Monday to criticise Mr Najib and call on party members to "speak up" against wrongdoing.

Although they stopped short of openly calling for Mr Najib's resignation, the rebellion may have opened up an opportunity the opposition is seeking to exploit through a no-confidence vote in Parliament next week.

FACING OPPOSITION

There are many ways of objecting... Even if the House rejects Najib's Budget, that would mean a no-confidence (vote) against the Prime Minister and it would seriously damage his stand.

MR WAN SAIFUL WAN JAN, chief executive of the think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs

"We have decided in principle to move a no-confidence motion in Parliament," said MP Tian Chua, vice-president of opposition Party Keadilan Rakyat. "We will definitely need to collaborate with some leaders from the ruling coalition. But now there is an opportunity to put aside other interests and focus on saving the country and the people."

A no-confidence vote is seen as having a slim chance of outright success as the opposition bloc is 25 seats short of the majority needed to carry the motion. And even if it gets the numbers, the Speaker of the House could reject the motion, stopping it from being tabled.

But Mr Najib is also facing crucial votes on his annual Budget and Malaysia's membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal which, political sources say, faces resistance from his own party as well as the opposition. Mr Najib is to table the 2016 Budget on Oct 23.

Losing either of those votes would significantly weaken the Prime Minister's position.

"There are many ways of objecting... Even if the House rejects Najib's Budget, that would mean a no-confidence (vote) against the Prime Minister and it would seriously damage his stand," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.

Mr Najib has responded to the Umno members turning against him by saying his opponents are trying to destabilise Malaysia and hinder its peaceful development.

"Do not allow anyone to be in cahoots with internal and external parties to destroy what we have achieved so far," he said in a speech on Wednesday.

The scandal surrounding Mr Najib erupted in July when it was reported that Malaysian investigators looking into 1MDB found nearly US$700 million (S$970 million) was transferred into bank accounts in Mr Najib's name.

Mr Najib has denied taking any money for personal gain while the anti-corruption commission said the funds were a political donation.

But he has failed to stop questions about the money flows, while several investigations into 1MDB, which has run up debts of some RM42 billion (S$13.8 billion), are still ongoing.

Last week, Malaysia's royal rulers made an unprecedented statement saying the government's failure to give convincing answers on 1MDB may have resulted in a "crisis of confidence".

Mr Muhyiddin said on Monday that several grassroots Umno members were worried about the country's leadership but were not willing to speak up.

"I ask them to openly express their feelings. Do not fear the consequences if you are doing the right thing," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Testing times ahead for PM Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe