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Nominating Najib again brings risks for Umno, analysts say

They also warn of the effect the former prime minister's image might have on voters.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Feb 18. Photo: AP
Former prime minister Najib Razak at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Feb 18. Photo: AP

An analyst warns that any move by former prime minister Najib Razak to be re-nominated in the 15th general election (GE15) will put Umno at risk of a by-election in Pekan, which would hamper the party’s efforts to gain as many seats as possible.

Mujibu Abd Muis from Universiti Teknologi Mara also said that it would have negative implications for the country as a whole.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said fielding Najib to defend his parliamentary seat should be viewed from a legal perspective, given that the former leader has been convicted of seven counts of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering involving funds from SRC International.

“If Najib cannot change the ruling and does not obtain a royal pardon, a by-election will need to be held again if he succeeds in defending his Pekan seat in GE15,” the political science lecturer added.

“Even though Umno is confident of retaining Pekan, in the context of forming the government, it needs a certain number of seats. Another vote for Pekan will not help.”

Najib was convicted of the seven charges in July last year and sentenced to 12 years in jail. He was also fined RM210 million by High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Ghazali.

He has denied wrongdoing and is appealing the verdict.

In a recent interview with Reuters, he said he had not ruled out seeking re-election to Parliament in the next two years.

At the 2018 election, several politicians cancelled their candidacies or did not run for office due to ongoing court cases.

They included former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli who at that point was facing trial under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act, and former Batu MP Tian Chua who was disqualified from contesting after the returning officer cancelled his nomination paper following a court case.

Najib and a group of other Umno leaders including party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi meanwhile have been dubbed the “court cluster” due to their various court cases on corruption and money laundering.

Mujibu said aside from the view of winning seats, the country’s reputation should also be taken into consideration by Umno.

“I do not think that Najib’s candidacy would be good in terms of integrity,” he said.

“If Umno continues with those who have been labelled as kleptocrats, it will send negative signals about the country’s direction.”

Umno still ruled by warlords

Mujibu also said the country’s ability to compete economically had already been affected by political instability as well as the Covid-19 crisis.

He said Malaysia is already struggling to compete with neighbouring countries, and that fielding Najib would be seen as heaping further challenges on the economy as foreign investors would question the government’s integrity.

He also cautioned that fielding Najib would carry the perception that Umno could not change.

He said it was a sign that the culture of political warlords and feudalism still thrives in the Malay party.

Umno and Barisan Nasional were ousted from power for the first time in Malaysian history in a shock defeat in 2018.

However, the party returned to Putrajaya with the formation of the Perikatan Nasional government in March last year, after Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation as prime minister and the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan administration.

Hisommudin Bakar, executive director of Ilham Centre, said Najib’s candidacy would be determined by two main factors: the Umno president who would sign off on the move and the legal aspect.

“Going by the discretion of the Election Commission officer on nomination day, there are still risks, and other candidates who might not approve of his candidacy could oppose it,” he said.

However both he and Mujibu agreed that Najib would stand a good chance of retaining his Pekan seat.

Hisommudin said Najib seeking re-election could be seen as a strategy to recapture the protest votes which went to the opposition in GE14.

But he said Najib’s image would have an effect on voters in mixed constituencies where the non-Malay vote is decisive.

He said Umno would also have to justify its move if Najib and the court cluster are indeed renominated.

“All decisions and risks must be assessed to provide Umno with the winning formula,” he said.

Mujibu meanwhile said Umno risked losing the support of young voters in GE15 if it continued fielding veterans such as Najib.

He said Umno’s biggest challenge would be to reform the party while convincing the people of its openness, transparency and ability to engage with the youth.