KUALA LUMPUR – None of Najib Razakâ€™s rivals commands enough support within Umno or among Malaysian voters to pose any threat to his continuing as party president and prime minister, the Economist newspaper said in its latest issue.
â€œMr Najibâ€™s position is probably safe for the moment,â€ it said in an article headlined Knives Out.
Much would depend on the economy, the newsweekly said, pointing to Najibsâ€™ role as PM and finance minister in dealing with the effect of falling oil prices, and spending cuts coming on top of the new Goods and Services Tax.
The Economist speculated that Najibâ€™s political opponents may have encouraged the Federal Court to deliver a verdict in the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder that would return the case to the headlines. The weekly pointed out that Najib had always denied any involvement in the crime, and there was no evidence to the contrary. But the case was a magnet for conspiracists.â€
At the same time â€œfactions loyal to Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who wonâ€™t go away, accuse Mr Najib of not looking out for UMNOâ€™s ethnic-Malay Muslim majority. Rumours persist that rebels are rallying around Mr Najibâ€™s deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin,â€ the Economist said.
None of Najibâ€™s rivals yet commanded quite enough support within Umno or among voters.
Najib was â€œthrowing bones to his detractorsâ€ by backing down on a promise to do away with the Sedition Act, pledging instead to bolster it with new clauses that would criminalise some speech against Islam and other religions.
â€œChallenging Najib this year would risk doing harm to Malaysiaâ€™s imageâ€, it quoted policy analyst Ooi Kee Beng, given that the country was the current chair of ASEAN, the club of South-East Asian countries.
However, the Economist said hardly anyone thinks Najib still had the power or the will to push through the big-ticket reforms he once considered, such as a plan to tone down positive discrimination laws, which throttle growth by favouring the Malay majority at the expense of ethnic Chinese and Indians.
But throwing Najib out the window â€œcould well mean Umno veering even harder to the right on divisive issues such as Islamâ€™s place in societyâ€, the Economist says, and concludes that few voters really want Malaysiaâ€™s polarised racial politics to get any more toxic. – freemalaysiatoday.com