18 January, 2009

A horrible blow for Datuk Seri Najib Razak

Malaysia’s opposition Islamist party won a fiercely contested by-election on Saturday in a vote that was cast as a referendum on incoming prime minister Najib Razak.

The prime minister-in-waiting has now lost two by-elections in less than five months.

Both the by-election results saw higher majority votes for the federal opposition.

Najib, who will take office in March after the incumbent decided to step down early under pressure, had declared this seat a ”must win” ahead of polls for top party jobs in his United Malays National Organisation, the main government party.

The vote was seen as a test of Malay Muslims, UMNO’s core support, who account for 88 percent of voters here, well above the national average of 60 per cent, and some of whom have shifted support to PAS, which wants an Islamic state.

The result in Kuala Terengganu came with the National Front still reeling after big losses in the March 2008 general election and after Anwar, who was once deputy prime minister until his imprisonment on sodomy charges in the late 1990s, was returned to parliament with a huge majority in August last year.

Najib did his best for his beloved Barisan Nasional in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election. Yet the voters in the BN stronghold decided to vote for Umno's arch enemy Pas.

He made many promises, granted many projects and offered a lot of goodies, and yet the voters rejected BN.

Is this a bad omen or merely another "minor" setback for the deputy prime minister who has a tough task ahead of him to take over from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi this March?

Throughout the 11-day campaign period, Najib had worked diligently to ensure victory for BN candidate Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh. According to journalists covering the by-election, he was one of the hardest working campaigners for the federal ruling coalition.

If it was not his fault, would BN leaders blame the voters? It may not be a smart idea to do so. After all, Terengganu voters were among those who helped BN increased its votes in the state when the political tsunami hit the country on March 8 last year.

What does the result mean for Umno and BN?

This dreaded question — is Umno still relevant — will continue to haunt its leaders. Since Abdullah is set to leave the political arena, Najib has to inherit all the misgivings and wrong perception brought about by his soon-to-be predecessor.

If Umno persists in blaming others in its post-mortem of the by-election, it would simply mean it does not want to address the root cause of the problem; and would further damage the image of the party.

Worse still, Umno will continue to lose its battle against perception of elitism, ignoring the people and too concerned with its own personal interests.

Yet in a more negative way, it can also push certain party leaders — particularly those entering the race for party posts in March — to be more insular and parochial in their racial approach to win the hearts and minds of their own supporters.

This could mean a more divided Malaysia. Unless the Pakatan Rakyat is willing to step in to provide a real alternative.



Blogger Crankster said...

Evidently, the more UMNO uses race as its main proponent, the harder it gets its ass kicked.

A winning formula for Pakatan Rakyat, I think.

January 19, 2009 4:50 AM  

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