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A mid-term assessment of our nation since GE13

Lim Teck Ghee  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT We are reaching the mid-point of the BN government’s rule following its election victory in May 2013. How has the government fared?

What can the nation look forward to in the remaining days leading to the next general election, due in 2018 when the term of office of BN and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak expires?

And can the BN expect to win again in the next election, or will we see the opposition sweep into power?

Most Malaysia watchers and analysts will probably agree that this first-half has been an unmitigated disaster for the prime minister and his party, Umno, which heads the BN coalition of parties.

While some credit can be given to Najib for guiding the economy to a softer landing from the hard crash that might be expected from the global economic downturn that has adversely impacted primary commodities and oil export countries, others see him as the main culprit in the mishandling of the 1MDB scandal and the political donation into his personal bank accounts, which have plunged the nation's politics into crisis.

Both controversies have yet to run their course. For now they have taken a heavy toll on the nation's confidence and trust, not only in the prime minister, his party and the ruling coalition, but also in the key institutions of government such as Bank Negara, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the MACC and the police investigating the two scandals.

Meanwhile, the efforts of the prime minister and his handlers to make it look as if Najib is the innocent victim of a conspiracy concocted by the opposition parties working together with former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin ( photo ) and a still ambitious former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is bent on ensuring that the country is run his way, and abetted by an improbable cabal of public officials - each with their own reason for wanting to oust the prime minister - not only ring hollow; they have backfired.

Deep, irreconcilable divisions

Antagonism against the prime minister, within and outside his party, and disapproval of the extraordinary manoeuvres aimed at silencing his critics have grown to such an extent that if an independent poll is taken on the mood of the electorate, it would not be surprising to find a large majority of Malaysians wanting to boot the prime minister out of office, and by extension, also the ruling BN coalition from power at the national level.

Ironically, the strongest opposition to the prime minister now, and in the foreseeable future, is from the rebels in his own party.

Diehard Umno leaders supporting the prime minister have argued that there is a need for strong action against Muhyiddin and others not toeing the party line to exonerate the prime minister from any wrong-doing in the 1MDB and political donation controversies.

Charitable analysts have also argued that the present fight is confined to the party's top leadership and that this battle among the party's elites does not affect the grassroots members whose loyalty is to the party, and not so much the leader.

However, discerning leaders within the party, such as the Johor Mentri Besar Khaled Nordin, are clearly worried that the damage to the party may be long-term, not short-term; and also severe and possibly grievous.

Right now, two key states considered to be part of Umno's heartland – Kedah and Johor – are in the balance if an early election is held.

But the disaffection that initially appeared to be confined to an urban Internet-savvy audience has also made inroads into two critical vote banks of Umno and the BN, that is, the predominantly Malay civil service and the rural constituencies.

If this trend - confirmed by the findings of the recent Edelman 2016 Trust Barometer Malaysia Report showing Malaysians' overall trust in the government is at 40 percent - is maintained, we could see the BN ousted in other states and at the federal level in the next election.

Can Najib continue?

What can happen in the next two years that may prevent the demise of the Najib and his Umno-led government?

One possibility that may be ruled out is the prime minister voluntarily giving up power; and the emergence of an alternative leader from Umno who has the undivided support of the party and other BN parties.

The prime minister has repeatedly stated that he will fight to the end to stay in his position and there is really no serious contender against Najib from within the current leadership of the party.

However, even if this unlikely scenario of a new Umno president takes place, it may not be able to repair the tarnished image of the party; neither will it bring about the unity of the warring factions embroiled in the current battle.

Whether they like it or not, the present batch of supreme council members of Umno and the leadership of the component BN parties will have to sink or swim with Prime Minister Najib.

This leaves two possible developments that could extend the life of the present government. The first is the declaration of a national emergency, such as that which took place in May 1969 following the racial riots.

Although Najib gave his assurance to the people recently that the present government is 'not a dictatorship or an authoritarian government', that 'we practise parliamentary democracy' and that 'we regard it highly', a national emergency cannot be discounted in view of the ruling coalition's own interests and other shadowy stakeplayers keen to leave their mark on the country's future.

If that happens, it will result in the postponement of the national election, and prolong the tenure of the prime minister and his chosen team indefinitely.

The second development, assuming the national election takes place in 2018, is the implosion of the opposition. This is not as remote a possibility as many wanting regime change in the country would think it.

Supporters of the ruling coalition are hoping that the opposition will continue to be in disarray and thus, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli's Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives. This assessment was written before Mahathir announced his resignation from Umno.

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