NAJIB ‘LONGING’ TO RETIRE? PICS OF SCANDAL-TAINTED PM ‘GAZING DREAMILY’ INTO THE SEA, PLAYING WITH GRANDSON & CAT TO APPEASE VOTERS DEMANDING HIS RESIGNATION AS GE14 LOOMS?

THE Prime Minister is an active Twitter user. Apart from work and government affairs, his tweets have extended to glimpses into the social side of his life.

There have been pictures of him cradling his newest grandson and playing with his favourite cat which resembles a giant ball of orange fur.

But some of the tweets during his official visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives were rather intriguing – there were several pictures of him gazing dreamily out to the clear blue waters of the island states.

Or, as some joked, it was as though Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was no longer a thorn in his side.

Has he found inspiration for the election date? Has he settled the thorny issue of candidates? Or is it a sign that he is confident of winning the next general election?

The answer is still blowing in the wind although the general opinion among many analysts is that the momentum is with Najib and Barisan Nasional is likely to win again.

Politically speaking, said lawyer and columnist Khaw Veon Szu, 2017 was dominated by the clash between Dr Mahathir and Najib.

For a while, everyone thought that Najib was finished because no Umno leader had ever survived an attack by Dr Mahathir. Najib not only survived, but Umno recovered under his leadership.

There is no great secret to his political survival – it is largely about having a thick skin and staying focused on what needs to be done amid the distractions around him.

He has been able to control Umno in his own way. A case in point was the way delegates at the recent Umno general assembly moved as one, singing the success stories of the Government and steering away from issues that might hurt the other races. It is what non-Malays expect of a strong Umno president.

“It was an unsettling year but without PAS, Pakatan Harapan is a poor follow-up to Pakatan Rakyat,” said Khaw.

According to a Penang DAP politician, the past year has seen a reshuffling of the cards by both sides.

Dr Mahathir was the trump card for Pakatan and has brought leadership to the coalition.

But overall, the cards have not opened up the way that Pakatan leaders would have liked – PAS is no longer around to deliver the Malay votes, the youth support has cooled off and they are still arguing about whether Dr Mahathir should be their prime minister candidate.

Pakatan’s success in 2008 and 2013 was a result of being able to ensure one-to-one contests in the peninsula seats. That is no longer the case and multi-cornered fights lie ahead.

The honeymoon is over and the spell of good fengshui that Pakatan had enjoyed post-2008 seems to have worn off. The old tricks of accuse and blame are also wearing thin.

For instance, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli was a glittering star in 2013 but is now regarded as a reckless accuser. Back then he was seen as prime minister material but now, even his own Pakatan colleagues say that they cannot “put the future of the country in this type of hands”.

“Penang is not as strong for us as in 2013, but we will make it because the opposition in Penang is weak. Selangor will also hold on, the two states will be our showpieces in persuading Kedah and Johor to come along,” said the above DAP politician.

Political commentator Eddin Khoo said it will be a restless period leading up to the general election.

“So much in politics has to change, yet there are so few to lead that change at this point in history,” he said.

He said that everything has become politicised and issues which used to be discussed in private are playing out in real time, on social media in a vivid and sensational way.

“Politicians are becoming less influential as opinion shapers when it comes to critical issues, and we see the royals stepping up to fill the vacuum,” he said.

Khoo foresees spoilt votes, people who refuse to vote or vote out of anger, all of which will make it difficult for analysts to make predictions.

“We may be heading for a democracy trap where people do as they like rather than what politicians tell them to. It’s about them rather than the big picture or the overall good, a trend that led to Brexit and the Donald Trump victory,” said Khoo.

A big year lies ahead for both sides.

“The predictable part of 2018 is that BN will be the winner. But it’s also unpredictable in the sense that no one can predict the majority (of win). Will Najib win big? He needs that to maintain his grip,” said Khaw.

The stakes are incredibly high for Najib. It is often said that a win is still a win but Najib cannot afford the same result as in 2013, he needs to do better or else he will be dealing with petty eruptions and challenges to his authority.

Moreover, as some have put it, he has only one throw of the dice.

“Umno has placed their hopes on him, the PM has to deliver,” said political risk analyst Amir Fareed Rahim.

Umno has been emboldened and they have stopped beating around the bush when it comes to Dr Mahathir. The former premier is Umno’s biggest threat and the animosity between Dr Mahathir and Najib has become terribly personal.

“You see Mahathir hitting further and further below the belt and Najib using words like ‘kepala bapak kau’ (your father’s head). It is building up to the moment,” said Amir.

Where does this leave Dr Mahathir?

Truth has been stranger than fiction in Malaysian politics. Who would have ever imagined that Dr Mahathir would be the leader of the opposition?

The man has been round the block, he knows the enormous powers of incumbency enjoyed by any sitting Prime Minister.

It is not the first time he is fighting a Prime Minister as the underdog. But this time around, he is 92, he is not in the best of health and his chief opponent is as crafty and strategic as him.

His past has also come back to haunt him, be it Operation Lalang, the forex trading scandal or the Memali tragedy.

“It’s bizarre that a young opposition group should be backing a guy they had opposed for decades. It’s as though they think people do not remember the past or that a leopard can change its spots.

“It’s a step backwards, they are taking voters for granted. Even Mugabe (Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe) has stepped down,” said former Umno MP Tawfik Ismail who is a long-time Mahathir critic.

Then again, Dr Mahathir is still riding horses and hitting the ceramah trail whereas Mugabe, 93, is in a sorry state, falling down stairs and trying to shake hands with potted plants at functions.

But said Khaw, it would be a mistake for Barisan to underestimate Dr Mahathir who will seize any opportunity.

“Even one silly mistake can turn into a fatal mistake,” he said, recalling the way Dr Mahathir exploited the crucifix-shaped pattern on a Kadazandusun headgear worn by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah during the 1990 general election.

Dr Mahathir’s crusade against Najib had its roots in the cancellation of the crooked bridge between Johor and Singapore. But he latched on to the 1MDB issue as the basis for Najib to go. Along the way, there were dire accusations that Malaysia would go bankrupt and end up as a failed state.

None of that has happened, the economy is starting to hum and the final segment of the 1MDB debt was settled this month.

But there is no turning back for Dr Mahathir.

“He is a fighter who never admits defeat even after he is defeated,” said Amir.

As for Najib, his battle cry has been, “no retreat, no surrender”.

However, Dr Mahathir took home the trophy as the Newsmaker of the Year in a poll conducted by an online news portal while Najib came in second.

But a more crucial popularity poll lies ahead in the general election.

It will be a do-or-die battle between the two great survivors of politics.

– ANN

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