Na­jib learns that all you need is fear

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ROGER MIT­TON roger­mit­ton@gmail.com

LIKE the adage that it takes a thief to catch a thief, it of­ten takes an un­prin­ci­pled politi­cian to de­feat a ri­val with the same qual­i­ties. Cer­tainly, any politi­cian who wants to suc­ceed must be able to in­still fear and be un­afraid to bury friends and foes alike.

The fa­mous Ital­ian po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Nic­colo Machi­avelli said that while it’s nice to be both loved and feared, since the two don’t come to­gether of­ten it’s bet­ter to be feared than loved.

Malaysia’s Ma­hathir Mo­hamad and Sin­ga­pore’s Lee Kuan Yew, both tow­er­ing re­gional lead­ers over the past half-cen­tury, openly es­poused ap­proval of Machi­avelli’s phi­los­o­phy.

That is why both stayed in power so long, de­spite of­ten vir­u­lent con­dem­na­tion from ri­vals at home and lib­eral gov­ern­ments in the West.

Lee died last year, but Ma­hathir, at the ripe young age of 91, is still us­ing Machi­avel­lian tac­tics to try to un­seat his successor and for­mer acolyte, Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak.

Un­for­tu­nately for the mas­ter, his pupil, who is 63 and has been PM since 2009, learned those tac­tics so well him­self that he has man­aged to re­main in of­fice de­spite over­whelm­ing odds.

This is truly over­whelm­ing, for Na­jib not only per­formed poorly in the last gen­eral elec­tion, but he also stands ac­cused of cor­rup­tion on a scale that de­fies be­lief, and the ac­cu­sa­tions against him look pretty rock-solid.

The lat­est came on July 20, when a law­suit was filed by the United States Jus­tice De­part­ment to seize over US$1 bil­lion in as­sets al­legedly stolen from the state in­vest­ment fund, 1Malaysia Devel­op­ment Bhd (1MDB).

Na­jib founded and, un­til May, was chair of 1MDB. How­ever, with his step­son and an­other young buck ef­fec­tively run­ning the fund un­der his guid­ance, it soon ran up losses of around $11 bil­lion.

Most of that was Malaysian tax­pay­ers’ money and it was used to buy art­works and fancy real es­tate, make a movie, and gen­er­ally al­low its youth­ful direc­tors to lead the life of Ri­ley.

But Amer­ica’s Jus­tice De­part­ment probe is no small beans. It could lead to Na­jib’s co­horts and even the Malaysian gov­ern­ment be­ing un­able to con­duct fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions with the US, one of its largest trad­ing part­ners.

And Wash­ing­ton is not alone in go­ing after 1MDB, as au­di­tors in Sin­ga­pore, Switzer­land and the UK, among oth­ers, are also go­ing over the books and tak­ing ac­tion.

On July 21, Sin­ga­porean au­thor­i­ties ve­toed real es­tate deals worth $178 mil­lion and seized bank ac­counts al­legedly linked to ne­far­i­ous 1MDB trans­ac­tions.

Sin­ga­pore also booted out Switzer­land’s BSI Bank over its ties to 1MDB money-laun­der­ing, and le­gal ac­tion has been in­sti­gated against the bank’s par­ent com­pany for lack of in­ter­nal over­sight.

As well, the probe into 1MDB has re­vealed that $681 mil­lion was paid into Na­jib’s per­sonal bank ac­count and re­cent re­ports even sug­gest that more than $1 bil­lion may have been chan­nelled di­rectly to him.

Yet by us­ing clas­sic Machi­avel­lian tac­tics, the PM has not only sur­vived, but with an elec­tion not due un­til 2018, he looks more en­trenched than ever.

By hob­bling the anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion and the ju­di­ciary, re­press­ing me­dia cov­er­age, and sack­ing dis­sent­ing of­fi­cials and party mem­bers, he has not be­come loved, but he has be­come feared – feared and re­spected by the only peo­ple who mat­ter to his sur­vival: the se­nior mem­bers of Malaysia’s dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal party, the United Malays Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UMNO), which he heads.

As long as Na­jib can count on their sup­port, he is safe. The op­po­si­tion can say he has made Malaysia a “global laugh­ing stock”, and the courts in New York and Sin­ga­pore can do as they wish, but he will re­main prime min­is­ter.

He knows, and all his UMNO party mem­bers know, that China will qui­etly cover 1MDB’s debts in re­turn for Malaysia tak­ing a softer line re­gard­ing the con­tentious South China Sea sovereignty dis­putes.

As well, Na­jib can rely on the loy­alty of most other UMNO lead­ers, partly be­cause his wealth has en­abled him to co-opt them, and most im­por­tantly be­cause their own po­lit­i­cal sur­vival de­pends on the party hold­ing to­gether.

Right now, the na­tion’s ma­jor­ity Malay com­mu­nity feels threat­ened and is pulling in the wag­ons.

With Malaysia’s Chi­nese and In­di­ans feel­ing antsy, sec­u­lar and fun­da­men­tal­ist Mus­lims get­ting aroused, and 1MDB fu­elling con­dem­na­tion from out­side, they know it is not a time to change the com­man­derin-chief.

A threat to him is a threat to them and to their priv­i­leged po­si­tion as the coun­try’s dom­i­nant race and para­mount power base.

That is why, even after Ma­hathir broke with Na­jib, the man he had shoe­horned into the premier­ship, and even after Deputy PM Muhyid­din Yassin broke with his boss, Na­jib did not flinch.

Be­sides, the UMNO’s foot sol­diers have brack­eted th­ese turn­coats with the pesky in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters on The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour­nal, and the oily fi­nan­cial au­di­tors in New York, Sin­ga­pore and Zurich.

They be­lieve the goal of th­ese out­side forces is to bring down their leader and thus to bring down the UMNO, and cru­cially to bring down the Malays.

That will not be al­lowed to hap­pen. Noth­ing, ever, must threaten Malay supremacy in Malaysia. And the at­tacks on Na­jib, no mat­ter how ve­nal he has been, have the po­ten­tial to do just that.

So they will be re­pelled. Na­jib will sur­vive. And with him at the helm, the UMNO-led rul­ing coalition will win the next elec­tion, which may well be called early, given the dis­ar­ray in the op­po­si­tion ranks.

Af­ter­ward, Ma­hathir and Muhyid­din will be crushed and 1MDB will be for­got­ten. Na­jib will beam in tri­umph. And down in his Flo­ren­tine tomb, Nic­colo Machi­avelli will wear a big smile.

Photo: EPA

Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak flour­ishes a blue cloth dur­ing an event in Kuala Lumpur on July 21.

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