DESPITE being dogged by allegations of corruption and the embezzlement of state funds, Prime Minister and Umno president Najib Razak is unlikely to lose the support of his Malay party ahead of the 14th general election, say political analysts.
However, should the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition win by a slim majority in the national polls, which must be called by August next year, Najib will be forced to step down or be forced to relinquish his role during the party general assembly, scheduled to take place after GE14.
“There are only two situations where Najib will fall. If BN wins by a slim majority, smaller than Pak Lah’s (Abdullah Badawi) before this (in 2008) or if BN loses Putrajaya,” said Hisomuddin Bakar, a political analyst from Ilham Centre.
Based on the party’s history, Umno would not sacrifice Najib ahead of the polls, despite his low popularity ratings among voters, he said.
A study by Oriental Daily News recently found that support for Najib among Chinese voters was at an all-time low of 3.8%, while the figure is even worse for his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, at 0.74% of respondents.
Chinese voters were seen to be more accepting of Hishammuddin Hussein (19.69%) and Khairy Jamaluddin (12.15%), whereas 63.61% of respondents rejected all four Umno politicians as potential leaders.
“They will not suddenly pick Hishammuddin just because support for him is higher. Najib, on the other hand, will ensure he remains powerful in the party because a loss of power will be a huge catastrophe for him,” Hisommudin told The Malaysian Insight.
Umno postponed its party elections, which was meant to be held in October 2016, to April next year. The party is likely to announce another postponement so that its party elections can be held after GE14.
While a growing number of Umno members were dissatisfied with Najib as their leader, policy lecturer Dr Mazlan Ali concurs that it is unlikely the party will risk an internal power struggle by removing Najib ahead of the national elections.
“Umno members who don’t agree with Najib will just leave the party, they won’t take Najib down through Umno’s system,” said the lecturer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).
“This can be seen in the formation of Bersatu. They (disaffected Umno members) realise they can’t fight Najib within Umno, so, they leave and form a new party,” said Mazlan.
Bersatu is the manifestation of Umno members’ unhappiness with Najib, and not a sign of a power struggle within the party as was the case in the formation of PKR by Anwar Ibrahim in 1999.
Hisomuddin said Umno was confident it would win big in GE14 and reclaim a two-thirds majority in Parliament if there were three-cornered fights.
“In my opinion, PAS’ attitude now (of staying away from Pakatan Harapan) is sure to result in three-cornered fights. And this is actually Umno’s strategy; to ensure that PAS enters the election as the third party because this is how Umno will retain power.”
PAS has announced a third political bloc in the formation of Gagasan Sejahtera, a coalition of smaller parties sharing Islamic goals and values.
According to a study conducted in the Kuala Selangor parliamentary constituency, Umno grassroots supporters admitted that Najib was a liability to Umno, but most felt helpless to do anything about it.
“There are no Umno members who can defend the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal except for maybe a handful of leaders at the top.
“There are no Umno members who can defend Najib from allegations that he did wrong.
“All they can do now is to just bide their time in silence,” said Hisomuddin, who conducted the field study a month ago.
The Oriental Daily News study also found that 84.15% of respondents said they wanted to see a change in government through the general election.
Only 6.4% wanted to maintain the status quo, while only 4.09% wanted BN to win with a two-thirds majority.
Hisomuddin said the findings corroborated DAP’s view that its campaigning could result in Malay voters turning on BN following Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s membership into the opposition pact.
DAP’s use of the term Malay tsunami had resonated with Chinese voters, who had voted against MCA and BN in the 2008 elections.
“When the Chinese believe that a Malay tsunami will take place, they will become even more motivated to vote for change in this country,” he said.