DESPITE irking his party members by suggesting Umno can work with Anwar Ibrahim to save the country, former president Najib Razak still has sway over the party and its leaders, said analysts.
They believed Najib’s suggestion was a politically savvy move, even though it received blowbacks from several leaders during the Umno Supreme Council meeting on Monday.
Universiti Malaya’s Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Najib still wields a lot of support in Umno and will not hesitate to pull strings to orchestrate the party’s next move.
“Najib still has influence and will surely do something with some party leaders who are still with him,” Awang Azman told The Malaysian Insight.
“Najib is more dynamic and realistic in realising the troubles Umno is facing being left out of PN. His suggestion of cooperation with Anwar, even without DAP’s involvement, is more suitable for the country’s multiracial dynamics,” Awang Azman said.
Najib had suggested Umno consider working with Anwar or other parties if the general election was not called when the Covid-19 epidemic abates. However, he said there would be no room for DAP in an Umno alliance with Anwar.
The council, which met on Monday night, however, decided to stick with PN and agreed on a national reconciliation with other political parties, including the opposition. Najib is not part of the council.
Contrary to the party’s decision, Najib reiterated on Facebook his willingness to work with Anwar, minus DAP, as only a suggestion and said even remaining in PN was among his ideas.
“The council decided we should continue to cooperate with the PN government but this should be based on the value of respect and political consensus.
“This also needs to have a clear balance. This result is also one of the three suggestions I mentioned yesterday,” Najib posted on his Facebook yesterday.
However, the Pekan MP warned if Umno was still neglected in PN, the grassroots and public will think Umno is weak, which will eventually wither the party ahead of the next general election.
“As a party member, I am worried the temporary power being shared and the temporary position that Umno-BN is enjoying in the PN government will cause a more severe defeat in the 15th general election,” he said.
Analysts believed Najib might have ruffled a few feathers in the party, especially those with an axe to grind, blaming him for the major loss in the 2018 general election.
KRA Group strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim said when Najib made the statement, he lost immunity cultivated from party grassroots after he lost his prime ministership.
“It shows that despite Najib’s popularity and huge social media following, his real influence within the party hierarchy is slowly waning. It is not and has never been absolute,” Amir told The Malaysian Insight.
The analyst said Anwar is a cult-like figure who is despised by many in Umno and the suggestion itself soiled Najib’s image.
“His apparent pushing of the Anwar agenda has not sat well with even his own supporters.
“His credibility and commitment towards Umno’s struggle will be questioned by party loyalists. Najib, who is usually a smart reader of political shifts, may have underestimated the anti-Anwar sentiment in the party this time around,” Amir said.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Umno’s statement it was willing to work with all parties in PN, as well as the opposition, but not PKR and DAP was balanced.
He said Najib’s suggestion of working together with Anwar might come into play later.
“I think the main takeaway from the statement was that the various factions remain very divided as to the best way for the party as a whole to move forward.
“Umno simply said it will continue to support the current government, which was its status quo position. It did not say it supports Muhyiddin or the Budget 2021 vote,” he said.
Universiti Utara Malaysia analyst Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani agreed, and said the apparent ceasefire might be called off if the party does not get what it wants.
“Najib is no longer in power but he is still very influential in Umno. The members still listen to him. However, Umno is still in a ceasefire.
“Politics is so fluid in Malaysia. No one can predict what will happen next,” he said.
But if the cooperation with PN works, Najib might not get away so lightly as party leaders are pushing for action to be taken against him for suggesting to work with Anwar.
“The distrust will be there. Anwar is still persona non grata for the party faithful. There may be calls by some quarters for disciplinary action to be taken against Najib,” Amir said.
He added that if the letter to the palace from Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib was real, it would land the former prime minister in more trouble.
“This is especially so if more evidence surfaces that paints him as actively colluding with Anwar, as it goes against the decision of ‘No Anwar, No DAP’,” Amir said.
Oh disagreed, saying Najib will remain a force to be reckoned with in the party and he was being shielded by Zahid, so no action would be taken against the former president.
“Najib is in the same faction with Zahid, the Umno president, so of course he is still very much in the game,” he said.
Najib, in his posting also warned the leaders about ground sentiments on working together with PN, and it will eventually be detrimental to Umno.
“Umno needs to be aware of the existence of this risk (as some analysts commented) and this is what I saw. Probably many do not think so.”
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT