The Economist says ‘so much for the great reform programme’
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 — Influential international newspaper The Economist has suggested that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may be courting electoral disaster because the reforms he has introduced so far are just enough to alienate his own party but too little to convince the centre ground.
In a scathing report headlined “Najib at bay” that was published today, the weekly newspaper pointed out that the Umno president was at odds with his own party where the concept of Malay privileges is entrenched at divisional level.
“The trouble is that though Mr Najib (picture) believes in change, much of his party clearly does not,” The Economist pointed out in its report on politics in Malaysia.
“Umno was founded specifically to protect Malay privileges and has ruled Malaysia without interruption since independence. Mr Najib came to power in 2009 not through an electoral mandate for change, but in an internal coup.
“As a consequence, he lacks the clout and possibly the will to impose his agenda on Umno. And the longer he postpones an election, the more his personal authority will ebb.”
Yesterday, the still powerful former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad urged Najib to postpone polls until he wins back support from the Chinese community.
Dr Mahathir also said he believed that Barisan Nasional (BN) would win a simple majority if elections were held today, but would not regain its two-thirds majority in Parliament nor win back states it lost to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in 2008.
But The Economist in its report today said Najib’s inability to convince the Umno party hardline would cost him.
The newspaper said that resistance to Najib’s changes has become something of a leitmotif, or theme, of his time in office.
It also pointed out that the decision of the Attorney-General to appeal Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy acquittal “hardly looks good” and has renewed suspicions that nothing much has changed in Umno.
“Over the past two years this English-educated son of an earlier prime minister has positioned himself as a bold moderniser. Mr Najib has promised to repeal a myriad of repressive laws, some carried over from colonial times, and to usher Malaysia into a new era of “transparency, democracy and the rule of law”.
“He seems sincerely to believe that Malaysia’s political settlement after independence in 1957 is anachronistic, because it uses wide-ranging affirmative actions to privilege the rights of the majority ethnic Malays over those of ethnic Chinese and Indians. It should, he says, be dismantled, slowly but surely.”
But The Economist pointed out that even reformists in Umno are now frustrated with Najib and the slow pace of his reforms.
“Najib does not have the foot soldiers to bring his reformist slogans down to the ground. He has the right instincts, but he’s running into a brick wall,” The Economist quoted Datuk Mohamed Ariff Sabri Aziz, the ex-information chief in Najib’s Pekan Umno division who recently defected to the DAP, as saying.
Another senior Umno member told The Economist: “These are the favoured lot, who grease the wheels of power. You have to dismantle all this, and so far Mr Najib has done nothing. He is not strong enough. He has tried very hard, but he has been pushed back by the conservatives in his party.”
The Economist’s final words on Najib were particularly scathing.
“So much for the great reform programme. The pity of Mr Najib is that a well-intentioned man has reformed just enough to alienate his own party and too little to convince the centre ground. He may be courting electoral disaster.”