This was one of those rare occasions when Mahathir is talking some sense. But of course, we know this wily politician invariably has something up his sleeve.
It doesn’t need Mahathir to tell us that it is game (almost) over for the PM. Najib is in extra time now as the pressure mounts on all sides. Across the length and breadth of the nation, people are murmuring and texting and WhatsApp-ing about 1MDB, Jho Low, Najib and Rosmah, and Sirul. That’s when they are not grumbling about the rising cost of living and soaring home prices – this, even before GST is imposed.
It would appear to be a suppressed uproar – suppressed by the fear of the Sedition Act and an array of other laws. But there’s no need for big ceramahs or rallies or loud speeches to open the eyes of Malaysians to what is going on. The real outpouring of unhappiness and anger is taking place in the comment sections of news portals, blogs, social media and WhatsApp.
It is an eerie silence that should worry the Najib administration. The coming days will be crucial: What is Sirul going to say? What happens now after the Finance Ministry deferred approval of RM3bn for 1MDB, especially as 1MDB has more loan repayments coming up? What will happen at the opposition rally on 7 March and the Umno divisional chiefs gathering on 8 March?
The irony is that it was Mahathir who put in place a system in Umno that entrenched the power of the Umno president (and hence the PM), making it almost impossible for any challenges for the top positions in party elections. That makes it awfully difficult for an increasingly sectarian Umno to remove the incumbent, even if he has lost the confidence of the party faithful.
But that suits Mahathir fine: even in his retirement, he can still play the role of ‘kingmaker’, nudging the incumbent towards the door when it suits him and nodding his approval for a successor, just like he did when Abdullah Badawi was shown the exit and Najib was brought in.
My sense is, it is just a matter of time before Najib, whose public ratings have dropped, is shown the door. But who else is there in Umno who is credible enough to take over? Muhyiddin? Hishammuddin? But are they credible? Or would a compromise candidate from the fringes such as Razaleigh be more acceptable to the Umno factions?
Whoever takes over will have his or her work cut out for him/her and will be in an unenviable position.
How do you deal with a black hole like 1MDB? How many other smaller 1MDBs are there out there that we don’t know of?
What do you do with gentlemen like Jho Low and Taib Mahmud?
How do you restore the credibility of government institutions?
How do you restructure the economy and move away from the neoliberal and speculative property-led, FDI-driven, unsustainable development model, which has opened up a huge chasm between the rich and the poor?
What do you do to promote food security and sustainable agriculture and make basic food items more affordable?
How do you dismantle the cronyism (including monopolies) that has concentrated wealth in the hands of a few while draining the nation’s – and our personal – coffers, leaving many Malaysians indebted?
How can you improve the quality of public health care and government schools, colleges and universities?
How do you deal with the religious and racial bigots who are trying their level best to wrench this country apart?
Where do you even start?
This is going to be a long year. But we must believe that Justice, Freedom and Solidarity – rather than indifference, hatred and corruption – will prevail in the end.