There has been a steadily escalating drive to get the local press - newspapers such as the Star, the NST and Utusan - to paint the Opposition in a negative light and to portray an image of an imminent bust-up between the three Pakatan Rakyat partners KeADILan, DAP and PAS.
And the man behind this latest push to gag and steer the Barisan Nasional-controlled press has turned out to be none other than Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak!
In a move that goes against civil norms and his own self-professed moderate outlook, Najib is reneging on very public promises made - including during last month’s high-profile Al-Jazeera interview with Riz Khan - that under him, Malaysians can safely and assuredly look forward to greater democratic space.
If Malaysians had believed him then and thought he deserved a second listen, then for sure they know now that they were wrong, and that this adage does indeed apply to him - a leopard cannot change its spots!
For Najib - in the public eye for 33 years - has long been been known for the huge political baggage that he carries, which include a barrage of allegations of multi-billion ringgit corruption.
Although, he has tried hard to rebrand himself, the 55-year old DPM is now desperate to ensure that he gets to sit in Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s chair this March.
Although, he has won the Umno presidency uncontested, it is still not a given that he will automatically assume Abdullah’s premiership.
What goes around comes around
What could stand in his way?
Basically, a massive loss of confidence from within the Barisan Nasional and in particular Umno. There is already a growing group of BN and Umno politicians, who are starting to seriously wonder if Najib is indeed made of the ‘right stuff’ to be Malaysia’s sixth prime minister.
Privately, they have been asking among themselves - does Najib even have clear leadership over his own community - the Malays - let alone the respect of rest of the nation’s 25 million people.
Well, they will soon know. A quick test is coming up - the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election slated for Jan 17. The 80,000-strong constituency is 88-percent Malay, with Chinese forming nearly 11 percent, while the rest are Indian and other minority groups.
Many in the politically-savvy Malay community believe that KT will mark either the beginning or the beginning-of-the-end of his hold over Umno and the BN.
They believe that it is crucial for Umno to retain KT and by a more convincing majority than the 628-vote differential it won in the March 8, 2008 general election.
It was during this watershed election that for the first time, the Umno-led BN lost its two-third majority in Parliament.
The result was so disastrous that it paved the way for Najib to oust Abdullah - by scouring support from disgusted Umno and BN leaders to force the latter into accepting early retirement.
But the wheels of fortune keep turning and those who live by the sword die by the sword. As Najib ousted his boss, others are now looking to oust him, the incoming president of Umno.
Deflecting attention from his own scandals
Abdullah - blamed for the March 8 debacle - may have agreed to pass the baton to Najib this March.
But once it is clear that despite the succession plan, Malaysians still prefer to support Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan alliance - then this is when the political clock will start ticking for Najib.
According to independent online news reports and other sources, the DPM summoned key editors from both the electronic and print media to his official residence two weeks ago.
He gave them a tongue lashing and a severe dressing-down. Also present was Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.
Despite being used to ‘guidance’ on the angle of their news coverage, the editors were nevertheless stunned by the directness and dead-serious demeanour of the DPM - who told them in no uncertain terms to be distinctly anti-Opposition or else risk his wrath.
Sources said Najib also warned of dire consequences befalling Malaysia if the Opposition formed the federal government. He repeatedly stressed the importance of winning the Kuala Terengganu seat.
Against such manipulation - Malaysians lose most
Thus the reason for the recent all-out assault by the BN-controlled media on the Pakatan and its leaders.
MCA’s recently elected president Ong Tee Keat too was quick to side his boss, Najib, while taking the opportunity to rid his party-controlled Star newspaper of top executives aligned to his predecessors Ong Ka Ting and Ling Liong Sik.
Nevetheless, despite the power play and no matter which way KT turns out, it is Malaysians nationwide who will lose the most if they do not stand up and reiterate their rejection against the brand of manipulation and intimidation being promulgated by Najib now, and by his mentor ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad before.
For how else can they prevent corruption, how else can they stop their national wealth from being eaten up and siphoned out, how else can they protect their children from the endless greed of recalcitrant leaders, how else to ensure that future generations get to inherit what is rightfully due to them.
Said Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim: “Our country is now facing a very uncertain economic future. The effects and implications are only starting to play out. The high inflation rate has caused the price of goods to rush up. There is a crisis of confidence in the security of the country, in its judiciary system. All these do not bode well for us and make it even more difficult to attract investments to stimulate our economy.We cannot remain in a state of denial.”
“The Kuala Terengganu by-election is a crucial and critical one as it will have a major influence on whether the changes started by the March 8 political tsunami last year should be pressed on or be blocked and even reversed,” DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said.
Political baggage revisited
It is clear that Najib will continue pursuing a strategy of directing efforts, resources and time on snuffing out the Opposition rather than focusing on the economic crisis and the never-before-seen retrenchment levels, which are both starting to be felt across the country.
Despite loud calls to Malaysians to stop politicking and focus on the economy, Najib is not heeding his own words.
Perhaps he knows that he cannot allow a two-party system to exist. Perhaps he knows he is not the one to lead Malaysia’s transformation. Lacking in both political firepower and personal drive to rid the country of the corruption crippling it, perhaps Najib knows that his survival lies in destabilising Pakatan at all costs.
This realisation is also starting to dawn on the country, the rest of Umno and the BN.
Until now, despite having entered active politics at age of 22, few Malaysians can actually point out Najib’s contributions to the country.
Many know about about his ‘political aristocracy’ - that he is the eldest son of second premier Abdul Razak - but after that what else?
Sad to say, in 99 times out of 100, when Najib enters the topic of conversation, attention invariably zooms in on his infamous ‘political baggage’, rather than on his achievements for the country.
Always only after a huge public uproar
For example, which Malaysian hasn’t heard about Najib’s recent attempt to privatise the National Heart Institute (IJN) to conglomerate Sime Darby? Or debated the pros and cons of the wasteful RM1.7 billion ringgit air terminal project at Labis - again granted to Sime?
As Finance Minister, Najib was weeks ago accused of selling out lower-income Malaysians, ignoring their concerns about escalating health-are costs. In particular, the IJN deal sparked allegations of cronyism because it was arranged by a bank led by his youngest brother Nazir. The deal was scrapped only after another huge public uproar.
Few Malaysians too have not heard of his alleged involvement with Altantutya Shaariibuu, wherein he was accused of having a sexual affair with the beautiful Mongolian woman before passing her onto his adviser Razak Baginda, who also took her in as his lover.
The sensational murder trial of the 28-year old Altantuya, horrifically killed and bombed to pieces in Malaysia in 2006, has been widely reported in the international press. The suspects are two police officers from a special unit tasked to look after Najib and his office. The two are now being tried for her murder.
Then, who hasn’t heard of Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the blogger who broke the news linking Altantuya to Najib and his wife, Rosmah? Raja Petra was later detained under the Internal Security Act and is still facing sedition charges.
What about the RM1.6 billion Eurocopter chopper deal that Najib rushed through during his last days in the defence ministry? Haven’t you heard of that?
And also what happened to its whistleblower - Abu Zahar Hashim, the former Umno Petaling Jaya Selatan division leader. Zahar, who leaked news of the deal which was approved without conducting test flights on the helicopters, was suspended by his party for daring to speak up.
He has since joined PAS and has promised to reveal other misdeeds - starting with the BN government’s purchase of Scorpene submarines during Najib’s time in the defence ministry.
With so much negative press of his own in the pipeline, it is no wonder that the DPM feels the need to go all out to gag his own press.
Even at the risk of futher marginalising the country and obstructing its socio-economic development and prosperity.
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