Some feel scandals exaggerated; others keeping open mind

Men walk past a 1MDB billboard in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Men walk past a 1MDB billboard in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPHOTO: REUTERS

Umno member Qanitah Shith has heard her party leaders explaining the debt troubles facing state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) but is keeping an open mind about the matter.

The 32-year-old Puteri (Young Women) wing leader in her Selangor division said she cannot presume they are 100 per cent correct until the official probe being carried out by various agencies is completed.

"I read news from all sources, from the mainstream media, the online portals and bloggers, and I have learnt not to believe everything that is out there. In time, the truth will surface," Ms Qanitah told The Straits Times yesterday, adding that she has chosen to stick by Umno president Najib Razak for now.

It is party members like her that Prime Minister Najib needs to fully convince as he moves to resolve 1MDB's debt burden and another scandal involving a huge "political donation", which he said was from Middle East donors.

Yesterday, Datuk Seri Najib again explained these two issues to party delegates in his speech at the opening of the Umno assembly.

The Premier has possibly won half of the battle. Some in Umno such as Women's wing member Siti Zainun Madi, 58, felt that the two controversial issues have been blown out of proportion by the media.

"Datuk Seri Najib has explained to the party. It is also explained in detail in the book they distributed; it is very clear," she said, referring to a factbook about 1MDB that was given out at the assembly. The 62-page book issued by government agency Jasa tried to debunk several allegations about 1MDB.

But Universiti Utara Malaysia's Professor Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani said Mr Najib's explanation about the twin scandals was still lacking. He, however, said the Premier was wise to play up the principles of loyalty and obedience.

"The reason he stressed loyalty is that Umno functions on a patronage system - who is in charge will get loyalty from the people," the political analyst told The Straits Times.

In his speech, Mr Najib also listed the party's achievements and what he had done since becoming Prime Minister in 2009. But his critics, as expected, were not convinced by his explanations.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad reminded Mr Najib not to take personal credit for Umno's successes in building the nation. "Umno succeeded, but do not take credit for the success of the party. Even I have not done that," Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters, when commenting on Mr Najib's speech.

Another critic, Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, hit back at Mr Najib, who in his speech quoted the party's Constitution to say that the members' job was only to assist the president.

"Helping the president can come in many forms - implementing projects and public facilities, also giving advice and opinions so that we can strengthen the party.

"If we do not strengthen the party and strengthen only the president, the government will not be ours," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Some feel scandals exaggerated; others keeping open mind'. Subscribe