PM just need to play dumb and delay election

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Najib could go to jail and Zahid likely to be convicted.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri might be dumb, but some of his advisers are not, especially Azalina Othman. One person equally dumb, perhaps below the PM’s intellectual, is UMNO president Zahid Hamidi. It was a dumb move when Zahid rudely pushed Ismail to give way for a convicted criminal – Najib Razak – to emerge at the centre of the stage in celebrating Johor state election victory.

Even though the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) had won a “landslide”, Ismail was humiliated the moment he walked into the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition’s command centre at the Johor UMNO Liaison Hall. He was greeted with a roaring “Bubar Parlimen!” (Dissolve Parliament) – clearly staged to pressure the unelected prime minister.

True, turtle-egg Ismail Sabri is just one of three vice presidents of UMNO – below Zahid Hamidi in the party’s ranking. This is the first time in UMNO’s history that the party president isn’t the prime minister. Still, as the country’s premier, Sabri should be accorded some respect. After all, it was not the PM’s fault that Zahid is facing 47 corruption charges.

Devan Manuel

To add salt to the wound, the prime minister was not even invited to give any speech at the Johor victory celebration. Zahid had not only offended and insulted PM Ismail, but told the audience that ex-PM Najib was the big hero, despite the fact that “Tok Mat” Mohamad Hasan (election director) and former Johor Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad had played major roles.

When Zahid announced – “This victory is a gift for Bossku” – it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The ungrateful Zahid had forgotten how Tok Mat, UMNO deputy president, rejuvenated the party when he was on garden leave. Worse, the popular Hasni was tricked and misled by Najib and Zahid into thinking that he would return as Johor Menteri Besar (chief minister).

Ahead of the Johor state election in March 2022, Najib had met with Johor Crown Prince in February. Hence, it’s hard to believe that Najib had no idea that the chief minister will be someone else, not Hasni. To trick PM Sabri to dissolve the parliament and call for an early national election, Najib and Zahid – UMNO Court Cluster – convinced the party to announce Ismail Sabri as the “poster boy”.

However, if Hasni could be played royally, what is there to stop Najib and Zahid from doing the same to Sabri? As a serial liar, Najib can certainly cook a thousand and one reasons not to make the turtle-egg man prime minister after UMNO wins the next 15th General Election. Once the parliament is dissolved, Ismail Sabri is game over and can be discarded like a piece of soiled underwear.

The only option left for Ismail Sabri to return as prime minister, assuming UMNO could lead its Barisan Nasional coalition to victory, is to go to the poll only after Najib lost his final appeal and sent to prison, or to do so only after Zahid Hamidi is found guilty – preferably both. That’s why Najib went berserk when the lame duck Sabri fought back, refusing to call for an early election.

On May 31, in an exclusive interview with Nikkei Asia in Tokyo, the Malaysian prime minister told the Japanese tabloid that he is in no rush to call for a general election anytime soon, arguing that rising food prices and other living costs are reasons the polls have to be considered carefully. Of course, even the hamsters knew it was a delay tactic to buy time.

Unimpressed, Najib immediately attacked the prime minister, arguing that the stakes are too high for Barisan Nasional to delay the national election. The crook who had stolen billions of dollars in the 1MDB scandal lectured the prime minister that inflation have cycles and they last between two and three years. He also said election must be held immediately, while the opposition is in disarray.

Actually, both Ismail Sabri and Najib Razak were lying – there is no inflation. Even if there is inflation, it is extremely low and under control, as declared by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul and Economic Affairs Minister Mustapa Mohamed. After all, Statistics Department says Malaysia’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) was merely 2.2%, compared to the US’ 8.3% and UK’s 9.0%.

Finance Minister Zafrul has also announced that Malaysia’s economy is not only on the right track, but is also growing strongly thanks to the rise in commodity prices, namely palm oil and crude oil. Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Zafrul told the world that the country could easily splash RM71 billion in subsidies to contain the inflation.

Is Najib trying to say the Statistics Department, Finance Minister and Economic Affairs Minister have all lied about the country’s inflation? In truth, Najib panicked as he could lose his final appeal at the Federal Court to overturn his 12-year jail sentence and RM210 million fine after having been found guilty of misappropriating RM42 million in SRC International Sdn Bhd (subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Bhd).

His strategy to hire Queen’s Counsel Jonathan Laidlaw to argue his appeal at the Federal Court in the coming 10-day hearing (from Aug 15 to 19 and 22 to 26) was a desperate psychological warfare against the judicial system. Najib, who no longer trusts his “hotshot” lawyer Shafee Abdullah, hopes a British lawyer could use his English to both impress and intimidate the local judges.

If indeed there was a strong case in the first place, even a lawyer as useless as Shafee would have succeeded in overturning Najib’s corruption conviction at the Court of Appeal. It would not have to go to the Federal Court, let alone spend millions to engage a Queen’s Counsel. That’s why Najib went ballistic and gave an order to Zahid to pressure Ismail to dissolve the parliament.

Worse for Najib, his wife – Rosmah Mansor – will know her fate a month earlier when the High Court is scheduled to deliver its ruling on July 7 on whether to acquit or convict the infamous Imelda Marcos of Malaysia. She is facing a corruption trial over the role she allegedly had played in securing a RM1.25 billion (US$300 million) project to supply electricity to rural schools in Sarawak.

She was charged with soliciting RM187.5 million (US$45 million) from contractor Jepak Holdings in 2016 and 2017 as kickbacks for securing the Sarawak project involving 369 rural schools in the Borneo state. Rosmah initially wanted RM200 million kickbacks (17% of the project value) under the pretext of a “political donation”. The rate was reduced to 15% (RM187.5 million).

Interestingly, right after Najib threatened the prime minister, Zahid sprang into action, rallying some 4,000 delegates at its 48th national convention yesterday for the next 15th general election to be held as soon as possible. The UMNO president himself is on the brink of being convicted as his corruption case is quite straight forward.

During the trial, Harry Lee Vui Khun, a former director of Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) told the High Court that his company was paying cash in Singapore Dollars (SGD) on a monthly basis to then-former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi from 2014 to 2018 in relation to the Foreign Visa System (VLN) Contract. The corrupt Zahid also received sponsored overseas trip from UKSB.

The payments, started with SGD200,000 per month and began in late 2014, were increased to SGD520,000 per month some time in 2017. Zahid had received bribes amounting to SG$13.56 million from UKSB for himself as Home Minister to extend the contract of the company as the operator of OSC service in China and the supply VLN system.

Finance Twitter

Unlike Najib’s popularity derived from his “Malu apa bossku” (What’s the shame, my boss?) moniker, Zahid, a Java-immigrant from Ponorogo in East Java, is highly unpopular. A weak leader who is widely known for his arrogance, thuggish behaviour and low intelligence, Zahid has been condemned by even pro-UMNO bloggers, propagandists and cyber troopers.

For example, National Professors Council chairman Professor Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin believes Zahid Hamidi should relinquish his post as UMNO president. Likewise, UMNO deputy president Mohamad Hasan issued a warning to Barisan Nasional delegates yesterday that the coalition must evolve in order to address its “toxic” reputation – obviously referring to leaders like Zahid and Najib.

Even though Barisan Nasional had won Johor, in terms of votes, it captured only 43.11% of total votes. It managed to win because the opposition was split. Therefore, there’s no guarantee that the coalition could win at the national election because the kingmaker is Borneo states Sabah and Sarawak, not UMNO alone, which is currently divided into the Court Cluster and Minister Cluster factions.

More importantly, Ismail Sabri does not see any incentive to call for an early election after how he was treated in Johor. He holds the trump card because only the prime minister can advise the Agong (King) to dissolve the parliament. With support from the Opposition, who itself is not ready to face the election; neither Najib nor Zahid can move a no-confidence vote to topple him.

What the prime minister needs to do is just play dumb and drag his feet over the date of the general election. Whether the current inflation is a lame excuse not to go to the polls is debatable. Given the current situation, people would rather see Najib or Zahid in prison first before going to vote for the next government. With both crooks out of the picture, Sabri could easily win UMNO’s top post uncontested.

Sabri’s popularity might skyrocket if Najib or Zahid or both are sent to jail under his watch. Besides, why dissolve the parliament now when he has more than a year left to be in power? A week is a long time in politics, let alone a year. The burning question is whether the turtle-egg man will succumb to UMNO pressure. – Finance Twitter