Najib’s shadow looms large in Umno corridors

K. Kabilan

Disappointment among Umno members was palpable with the silence from party leadership on ‘freeing’ former president Najib Razak from jail. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 11, 2023.

Commentary by K. Kabilan

WHISPERS could already be heard in the run-up to the Umno annual general assembly, which ended yesterday, that supporters of jailed Najib Razak were not happy.

They had been greatly disappointed with the silence from party leadership on “freeing” their former president from jail.

Their anger was particularly directed at party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for having seemingly forgotten Najib, and was instead enjoying his new role as the power broker in the unity government, and applying to get his own cases dropped.

The chatter in social media and some Umno related publications also questioned if Zahid and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim found it better to keep Najib’s pardon under wraps until after the state elections.

So when the Umno assembly got underway, there were posters around Dewan Merdeka and other parts of World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur accusing Zahid as well as law and institutional reform minister Azalina Othman Said of breaking promises made to the party over Najib’s freedom.

Delegates and party members at the assembly also spoke about how Umno had gone cold on Najib’s issue after making one statement that the party would be appealing to Yang di-Pertuan Agong to consider granting a royal pardon to Najib as per article 42(1) of the Federal Constitution.

A news portal reported yesterday that the grassroots’ patience with Zahid was running thin as “many are frustrated with the situation surrounding Bossku”, adding that they felt that the government was not doing enough to “help him”.

In the 2,500-capacity Dewan Merdeka, delegates chanted “Bebas Bossku” and “Hidup Bossku” while others held up posters with the message “Justice for Najib Razak”.

Observers also mentioned that delegates only got excited when Zahid mentioned Najib’s plight in his opening speech.

There is also a widespread belief among Umno members that Najib is a victim of political persecution and had been denied a fair trial in the SRC International case, which ended with his conviction and 12-year jailing.

A case in point is delegate and Bangi Umno chief Zaidi Md Zain, who blamed former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for carrying out his personal agenda against Najib.

He urged Zahid and Anwar to use their political clout to release Najib.

“Bossku has been jailed by a corrupt judiciary and because of Atuk’s (Dr Mahathir) political game,” he had said in his debate.

“We believe Bossku can be freed through political power, and that power is in the hands of the prime minister (Anwar),” he added.

Even political talk shows hosted by Umno’s official website during the assembly had party delegates talking about the need to do justice for Najib.

It remains to be seen whether Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PM Anwar Ibrahim have the political will to push for Najib Razak’s royal pardon as soon as possible. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Nazir Sufari, June 11, 2023.

Perhaps sensing the uneasiness of Najib’s loyalists, Zahid was smart enough to touch on the subject in his speech during the opening, which Anwar also attended.

He used Najib’s name to send a message to Anwar that Umno remained loyal to the unity government. 

Zahid said Najib was “praying and hoping” for the unity government’s success in the six state elections. 

“Even though he (Najib) is not physically with us at the moment, his soul and energy is still with us. Let’s cheer for him,” said Zahid, who was overcome by emotions by that time.

There was also a video of Najib’s son, Mohamad Nizar Najib, talking about his father being a firm believer in the unity government’s capabilities, and that he had never instructed his followers to attack Zahid for failing to get him released.

Zahid went on to state that Umno’s stance on getting Najib released has not changed. He told Najib’s family to have patience, and that “God will grant our prayers in time”.

Seeing the robust response from the delegates on this, Zahid directly addressed Anwar, telling him that: “PM, see for yourself… this (crowd cheering) is authentic.”

Najib’s supporters should be happy now as their agenda to free him has once again become loud.

It remains to be seen if there is political will for Zahid and Anwar to push for Najib’s pardon as soon as possible.

For the prime minister, there are other things to consider surely, especially the political support fallout in the event Najib walks away from Kajang Prison. How will voters react if he becomes free after being convicted in the RM42-million SRC International graft case? How will his own partners in Pakatan Harapan feel?

Najib also has several other criminal cases pending. Can all these be forgotten for the sake of political expediency?

However it goes, Najib looks set to be in the mainframe of the nation’s political game. – June 11, 2023.

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