PETALING JAYA: Political observers say Najib Razak’s popularity in a recent poll of possible candidates to be prime minister is a result of effective public policies and his ability to get on with people of all backgrounds.
Economist Barjoyai Bardai and political analyst Kenneth Cheng both felt that Najib remained influential because he had been a generous prime minister with policies that favoured the people instead of the capitalist free market.
Another analyst, Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said Najib’s “Bossku” campaign had been one of the most effective slogans on social media, portraying him as the victim of a power struggle, especially at the hands of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib had garnered almost half the votes in a recent online poll by Utusan TV, in which a total of 53,105 people had responded.
Almost half picked Najib as their choice to be the next prime minister; PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang came next with 11,050 votes, followed by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim with 6,938 votes. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin received 3,262 votes, while former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had 424 votes and Cabinet minister Mohamed Azmin Ali garnered 176 votes.
Barjoyai, of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, said Najib had started many welfare programmes such as Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia or BR1M (now called Bantuan Sara Hidup) which the country did not have previously.
Najib had also changed Malaysia’s economic system from a capitalist free market favouring privatisation, to a more social model.
Barjoyai said he would not be surprised if more young people supported Najib because of his public programmes. However, they needed to know that corruption was not acceptable. Najib is currently undergoing trials for 1MDB corruption charges.
He said Najib’s government was effective in its delivery process and “was philosophical. He brought in the blue ocean strategy and had a long-term development agenda.”
Hadi only came second as some respondents have tasted a Muslim-led government (Kelantan, Kedah and Terengganu are run by PAS-led administrations) and “they feel if this is enforced further, Malaysia can be an effective Islamic-led country.”
However, Cheng said there might be feelings of nostalgia for a politically stable government, such as the one under Najib.
Aside from the 1MDB scandal, Najib had been a competent prime minister with several public projects that had benefitted the rakyat, such as mass rapid transit projects and the 1Malaysia Klinik among others.
Cheng, a member of the Agora Society network of intellectuals, said Chinese and Indian voters viewed Najib as a liberal prime minister; “if you look carefully, there is only the 1MDB case that is very damaging”.
However, Barisan Nasional had lost the support of Chinese voters by the time Najib came into power in 2009, Cheng said. “Najib tried to bring back the Chinese votes but it was too late by then.”
He said Najib then focused on his Bumiputera agenda; “he might as well, as it was his support base”.
However, Cheng felt it may be difficult for Najib to be the prime minister again. He would need to be a party president, and go up against Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. He might not, Cheng said. “His chances seem to be quite slim,” he added.
Kartini said she is not sure if Najib still remains the choice of the rakyat. “Umno has factions and the response that one receives from different members would produce different answers,” she told FMT.
However, Najib’s public policies, such as the goods and services tax (GST), East Coast Rail Link (ERCL) and a proactive diplomatic policy with China turned out to be the right direction to boost Malaysia’s economic development.
“That could be the reason behind the support,” she added.
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