Najib remains unshakeable: The Star

Malaysia Prime minister Najib Razak watches the final round of 2015 CIMB Classic golf tournament at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on Nov 1, 2015.
Malaysia Prime minister Najib Razak watches the final round of 2015 CIMB Classic golf tournament at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on Nov 1, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

By Joceline Tan

The Star/Asia News Network

The enemy within is often more lethal than the enemy outside and Umno is abuzz with talk that some kind of action will be brought against leaders who are like 'scissors within the fold'.

There was a rather wild rumour going around on Tuesday that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would be resigning from Umno and that he would announce it at his Seri Kembangan residence.

Of course, nothing like that happened. Dr Mahathir has been out of Umno twice - he was sacked the first time and he resigned the second time. And on both occasions, it was because he had serious disagreements with the sitting Prime Minister of the time.

Will there be a third time for Malaysia's most controversial statesman? These are amazing times and anything is possible.

Umno is astir with talk that the axe is about to fall on several top Umno figures and, whichever way one looks at it, Dr Mahathir is in pole position on that count.

In fact, Umno politicians joke that the "old man" as they call him - sometimes affectionately but lately with less affection - has outdone the opposition parties in running down their party. Some of them call him the "de facto opposition leader" who, they say, is doing a better job than the real Opposition Leader.

According to Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah, the Umno division chiefs are asking the Umno leadership to act against those whose actions and statements have damaged the party.

A poll carried out among the division chiefs via their Telegram chat group resulted in 154 out of 170 of those in the chat group voting for action to be taken against the "gunting dalam lipatan", the Malay proverb used by the Prime Minister during his Budget speech to describe his enemies from within.

Faizal said that they did not name anyone but he did not deny that they had in mind deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Dr Mahathir.

The trigger factor was what Muhyiddin said at a public forum in Johor Baru last Saturday.

It was Muhyiddin's most frank and critical speech on the 1MDB issue, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and also his sacking from the Cabinet. He had used the forum organised by the Bahasa Malaysia newspaper Sinar Harian to let go of the frustrations that had been bottled up all this time.

The former Deputy Prime Minister also struck some raw nerves when he described those who did not support him as cowards who only cared about holding on to posts and becoming election candidates.

"Some division chiefs have been critical of him for some time but we wanted to give him a chance especially after he said his priority is that the party is united. But he ran us down at the forum just because we chose to support the president, some of us felt it was too much," said Faizal.

Muhyiddin had taken his Cabinet sacking like a gentleman but deep inside, he felt he had been unjustly treated. He also told the forum of how he twice turned down the opportunity to take over from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and had supported Najib for the top job.

But Najib had returned the favour not once but twice. The Umno president threw his clout behind Muhyiddin's candidature for the deputy president post in the last two Umno elections and had even asked his men to help campaign for Muhyiddin.

Their partnership had started to go downhill even before the 1MDB issue blew up. But it is over between them and reporters have noticed the unnatural body language between them especially when they are together at party meetings.

The last two supreme council meetings saw Muhyiddin folding his arms in a defensive way and wearing a grumpy face. He did not bother to hide his feelings whereas Najib was better at putting up an all-is-okay-between-us demeanour. The trust between them is gone.

It has not been an easy time for Muhyiddin. For the first time in decades, he attended the Parliament sitting as a Barisan Nasional backbencher and he had to endure Najib making references to "gunting dalam lipatan" and "api dalam sekam" (fire in the husk or thorn in the flesh) in the closing stages of the Budget speech.

The division chiefs do not intend to make any formal representation to the supreme council.

"The supreme council members are aware of our sentiments, many of them are also division chiefs. It is up to them, they will know what to do," said Temerloh chief Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin who is also the administrator of the chat group.

No one can quite predict what will happen next. Moving disciplinary action against the deputy president is a dicey thing and could, as Johor Baru division chief Tan Sri Shahrir Samad put it, "cause a backlash".

According to Shahrir, feelings in Johor were simmering after Muhyiddin's sacking. It has cooled down a bit and further action against him may cause things to come to a boil again.

"I know people are upset that he is stirring up issues. They are worried about what he will say when he addresses the three party wings at the general assembly. My view is for us to ride the waves and confront things head on," said Shahrir who is also Johor Baru MP.

Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan is also against any hasty moves against Muhyiddin.

"He is still the No 2, tell him properly at the supreme council level. The party has a system and we should follow the process," said Mohamad who is also Rembau chief.

A Terengganu Umno politician pointed out that it was only natural for Muhyiddin to lash out. His feelings are still raw and his pride dented.

"Suspending him is not the solution. Even if he makes a controversial speech at the Umno general assembly, the president still has the last say," said a Terengganu lawyer and politician.

Moreover, if action is taken against Muhyiddin, then similar action has to be taken against the "de facto opposition leader".

For instance, many in Umno are still angry about Dr Mahathir's participation in the Bersih 4 street protest. He then rubbed salt into injury by running down the Malay Red Shirt rally. They saw it as a betrayal and a contradiction of what he stands for.

"He lost a lot of support in Umno for doing that. You should have seen some of the words that people used (in our Selangor Umno chat group) after he attended the Bersih rally. I don't dare repeat it to anyone," said Faizal.

Dr Mahathir's inability to get Umno to come along with him has less to do with those down the line being afraid than with the nature of party politics - people want to go with the winner rather than the one who has been ousted or put out to pasture.

He, of all people, should know that. When he sacked Anwar on charges of sexual misdemeanour and corruption, many Umno leaders did not believe it but chose to go with the one in power.

"I have been telling anyone who will listen that Najib will not resign, he will survive. He is still very strong in Umno and he will lead the party into the 14th general election. He will win for the simple reason that the opposition is even weaker," said the lawyer from Terengganu.

Just days after Parliament convened, a motion to suspend DAP's Lim Kit Siang for remarks made against the Speaker saw Barisan winning with 107 votes against 77 by the opposition.

The suspension was the sideshow. The real victory lay in the fact that Barisan has shown that it has the numbers to remain in full control of Putrajaya.

It was Barisan's way of telling the opposition: You say you can topple our man but you cannot even save your own man.

The numbers also meant that the opposition's attempt to move a vote on confidence against Najib is dead in the water. A few days later, a leading opposition MP also conceded they had no chance of voting down the Budget.

Dr Mahathir recently gave a rather candid interview to Reuters during which he conceded that he has been unable to topple Najib and that Najib will go full term.

Despite the relentless attack against Najib, neither Dr Mahathir nor Muhyiddin have been able to create a political momentum.

There is something sad and tragic about the way Dr Mahathir has pursued his mission to get rid of Najib. He has damaged Najib, his attacks have rocked Umno and he has diminished himself in the process. He is playing such a self-defeating game.

It is not that people do not agree with some of the things he has been saying but they do not agree that he is once again trying to replace a sitting Prime Minister with someone else of his liking.

"He thinks he is the kingmaker but the throne has passed on to someone else," said the Terengganu lawyer.

But no one expects Dr Mahathir to stop. He will go on trying.

The question is whether Muhyiddin will do the same and court more trouble for himself.