Malaysiakini News

The 'RM2.6b' question - can Najib risk sidelining Zahid?

Published:  |  Modified:

ANALYSIS Since the surprise announcement of Hishammuddin Hussein's appointment as a special functions minister, the speculation mill has been churning out numerous theories, with several claiming it could be a move against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

However, the "RM2.6 billion" question here is whether Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak can afford to do this, especially at this point in time?

Even before taking over the leadership reins in 2009, Najib was plagued with a scandal in the form of Altantuya Shaariibuu's murder. Though the prime minister has proclaimed his innocence and the police have cleared him, there are still numerous unanswered questions and loose ends in the case.

Then came the 1MDB scandal and the RM2.6 billion in Najib's personal bank accounts, making him the first Malaysian prime minister to be implicated in a trans-continental corruption case, which has been touted as the biggest in the world thus far.

Also implicated is his stepson, who is accused of having used the funds to finance the production of an Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie, in which the plot, coincidentally, revolves around corruption and crime.

In the meantime, there have been allegations that Najib's wife is a lavish spender, with a taste for designer products.

As a result of this, Umno and BN leaders have been forced to defend the prime minister and his kin over and over again, not only against local critics, but against those abroad as well.

His detractors have refused to let the issue rest, despite attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali clearing Najib and Najib himself blaming the allegations on those conspiring to topple him from power.

In other words, Najib is akin to an albatross around Umno's neck.

Zahid is no pushover

One of the reasons Umno has tolerated him is because the opposition is weak and fractured, and the prospect of them seizing federal power is remote.

Under such circumstances, there seems to be no reason to rock the boat.

Perhaps if former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was not in prison and PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was still alive, the scenario would have been different.

Furthermore, history has shown that when there is an upheaval in Umno, the party needs a year or two in order to regain its bearings and close ranks.

Therefore, it would appear to be counter productive for Najib to make a move against Zahid at this juncture, when the general election is around the corner.

Unlike Muhyiddin Yassin, whose influence in Umno is negligible, Zahid is no pushover, having won the most number of votes in the last Umno elections for the vice-president post, while Hishammuddin finished last among the three, after Mohd Shafie Apdal.

Blood is thicker than water

So this leaves two other possible reasons for Hishammuddin's appoinment.

The first is to consolidate his position as vice-president, as one party insider reportedly said, "ants would be drawn to the sugar" in reference to how holding two ministerial portfolios would grant Hishammuddin greater patronage power.

According to PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli, his Umno sources have claimed that Hishammuddin is trailing behind Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as well as Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in the vice-president race.

The second is that perhaps Najib wants to create a political balance by empowering his cousin to keep Zahid in check, just in case Zahid has something up his sleeve.

In the past, Zahid has, on more than one occasion, pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

But as the adage goes, anything is possible in politics.

And to recall the words of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. The former prime minister himself has become a living example of this.

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