29 July 2015

In a bold move Prime Minister Najib Razak has sacked his deputy and four cabinet ministers and the Attorney General. This is a very desperate move and Najib is prepared to face the consequences, which may cost him dearly.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin Yassin was critical of Najib and called on him to explain the scandal surrounding 1MDB, a government owned investment arm which has more than US$ 11 billion in debts. Muhyiddin Yassin is a veteran politician who has spent a lifetime in politics. Starting his political career in Johor in 1978, he became the Chief Minister (Menteri Besar) of Johor in 1986 and retained his office till 1995, when he was moved to the central government as Minister of Youth and Sports under former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He served under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who succeeded Mahathir and later under Najib Razak. He still holds the number to position in the UMNO party. Therefore he can be a formidable enemy to Najib.

Now that he is not in the cabinet, Muhyiddin Yassin is free to attack Najib. In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Mr Muhyiddin said: “During my service, I have always supported all government policies and the leadership of the Prime Minister. In the 1MDB issue, I have principles and my own stand in defending the rights of the public, the good name of the party, and the national interest.

“If my stand in this issue has caused me to be sacked from Cabinet, then I accept it.

“I will always be loyal to Umno’s cause. As Umno deputy president, I will continue the duties entrusted to me and devote myself to the service of strengthening the party and restoring the faith of Malays and the public in Umno.”

After he was dropped from the cabinet his friends, relative and foreign and local media camped outside his house. One of the visitors was Kedah Mentri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who is one of Mr Najib’s most vocal critics.

During a live telecast on the Cabinet reshuffle, Najib said, “I can accept differences of opinion and criticism as part of the decision-making process. But as a Cabinet minister, differing views and opinions should not be aired in public forums that can negatively impact the perception of the government and nation. It is also contrary to the concept of collective responsibility.

“The decision to replace Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was very difficult, but leadership is about doing what you think is right,”

Najib replaced Muhyiddin Yassin with Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is very popular in the party and a vice president of the party.

The most controversial move was to sack the Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, at a time when he was ready to file charges against the people involved in the 1MDB scandal. Many believed that Gani was loyal to Najib. This shows clearly that Najib wants to crush any independent enquiry into the affairs of 1MDB. Federal Court judge Mohamed Apandi Ali is taking over as Attorney General.

Muhyiddin’s closest ally, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, who was the Rural and Regional Development Minister, was also dropped.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has the oversight of use and abuse of public finance.  Its chief, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, has been appointed as the new Deputy Home Minister. He had led the bipartisan panel probing 1MDB and was about to interview top executives of the company. Along with Nur Jazlan Mohamed, two other members of the PAC have been appointed deputy ministers and one a minister. This move is likely to stall the enquiry of the PAC into the affairs of 1MDB for a long time.

The Home Ministry, led by new Deputy Prime Minister Zahid, has replaced the director of the police’s Special Branch, which is in charge of intelligence gathering.

In his mid-term reshuffle, Najib dropped three other ministers and appointed seven new ministers.

UMNO has a history of conflicts like this. In 1986, then Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam stepped down after disagreements with Dr. Mahathir. Umno split in two. Tun Musa joined hands with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to challenge Dr Mahathir. The ensuing legal battle led to a court declaring Umno illegal. Dr Mahathir re-formed Umno under ‘Umno Baru’ while several Umno leaders led by Tengku Razaleigh started the Semangat 46 opposition party.

Again in 1998 then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had a disagreement with Dr. Mahathir. This led to street demonstrations and the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat was formed. Anwar is still languishing in prison.

Umno’s policymaking Supreme Council will meet on Friday. While the meeting is closed door, there will be   leaks of a stormy showdown between Mr Najib and Mr Muhyiddin.

This is the fourth of a series of postings on 1MDB saga. The other three being:

Malaysia: Wrong Move