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Analysts warn of cracks in PH-BN ties after Najib's court failure

They say BN might withdraw its support for the government, even as Najib's support in Umno remains unchanged.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags fly in the breeze at a road in Tambun, Perak, ahead of the 15th general election, Nov 17, 2022.
Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags fly in the breeze at a road in Tambun, Perak, ahead of the 15th general election, Nov 17, 2022.

Cracks may begin showing in the ties between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH), analysts say in the aftermath of a court verdict effectively ending Najib Razak's judicial efforts to challenge his conviction and sentence in the SRC International case. 

Najib's ally, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said following the verdict on March 31 that the Federal Court's decision should be respected. 

However, this did not stop Umno leaders such as vice-president Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail and veteran Shahrir Samad from expressing sympathy for the former prime minister, who began serving a 12-year jail term last August. 

Political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib said the court's decision was unlikely to affect Najib's support in Umno, which he led until his resignation in 2018. 

"Many Umno members are sympathetic and have begun to speak out," she said. 

"The grassroots in general have their own views and decide for themselves which politicians they prefer." 

Najib, whose administration was toppled at the 14th general election, was slapped with a string of criminal charges after stepping down from the top office. 

The SRC International case saw him charged with criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power related to the misappropriation of RM42 million.

On July 28, 2020, the Kuala Lumpur High Court convicted him of all seven charges, fining him RM210 million and sentencing him to 12 years in jail. 

The decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8, 2021, and the Federal Court on March 31 dismissed his application for a review of the appeals court's judgment. 

While Najib has applied for a royal pardon, he can no longer challenge his conviction in court. 

Kartini, of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said it was possible that BN would withdraw its support for the coalition government led by PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim due to the fractures caused by the pro-Najib group in Umno. 

"Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak stand with Umno in many situations," she added, referring to the other major coalitions in the government. 

"If Umno pulls out, the unity government could be left with only its name." 

Former Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, who was sacked from Umno early this year, had also warned of Najib's continued influence, even from behind bars. 

Speaking in a podcast after the apex court's decision, he said the former prime minister was still a force to be reckoned with. 

Analyst Mujibu Abd Muis said Zahid, who was instrumental in ensuring the support of BN MPs for Anwar, had been seen as trying to buy Najib's trust by ensuring that "his people" were in positions of leadership.

Now, he said, it remained to be seen if the pro-Najib faction would attempt to challenge the government and Zahid's position. 

"They might gain strength if Umno-BN perform badly at the six upcoming state elections," Mujibu of Universiti Teknologi Mara said. 
He said the pressure on Zahid would then increase, adding that only "Najib's gang" was strong enough to do so as the rest had all been purged from the party. 

"Or, Najib's camp might be bought by Zahid," he said. 

Kartini meanwhile said that Umno was used to facing scandals involving party leaders. 

"Najib's case is not the first," she said, citing Anwar's sodomy accusation and the murder conviction of former youth minister Mokhtar Hashim.

"More interestingly, Najib still has support within Umno as well as in Pekan, Pahang, just like the support for Anwar as Umno's former deputy president remained even though he was imprisoned." 

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