Najib Razak’s first 1MDB-linked criminal trial may be done and dusted, but the former Malaysian prime minister faces another cliffhanger.
Now he has been convicted and sentenced to jail, albeit with bail pending appeal, the next big question is this: will his long-time allies in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) stand by him or cast him aside?
The powerful political party’s collective stance on Najib could weigh on its recent resurgence and the path forward in its alliance with Prime Minister Muhyuddin Yassin, analysts say.
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Defeated in 2018’s elections after an uninterrupted 61 years as the country’s most important political force, Umno in February found itself back in power when a few defectors from the then-ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance reached out to it to form a new government.
Muhyiddin, among the instigators of that move, now depends on Umno’s 39 MPs to retain his Perikatan Nasional alliance’s two-seat parliamentary majority.
Those political manoeuvres marked a change in fortunes for Umno. Its 2018 defeat triggered deep soul searching, defections and an upheaval in its leadership.
Analysts believe Tuesday’s verdict will trigger a fresh round of navel gazing in the party, the country’s biggest political organisation with 3.2 million members.
“One notable thing from the initial reactions from Umno is that there is no single, unified response on whether Najib was indeed wrongly convicted and whether Umno should help to rehabilitate him,” said Harrison Cheng, a Malaysian politics observer and analyst with the Control Risks consultancy. “It’s not a clear-cut case that all of Umno is keen to stick to Najib.”
A day after Justice Mohamad Nazlan Ghazali’s ruling, there were few clues on the thinking among some of the biggest names in the party, which Najib helmed for a decade until he resigned as president in 2018 after the election defeat.
Najib’s father, the country’s late second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, is one of Umno’s most revered figures.
His uncle, Hussein Onn – the father of current Umno stalwart and foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein – succeeded Abdul Razak as the country’s third leader.
Despite his legal troubles, Najib himself remains a respected grandee within Umno.
Some observers say the resurgence of Umno and the larger Barisan Nasional bloc that used to govern the country is due in part to the war chest made available by Najib.
A handful of the party’s most vocal pro-Najib zealots, such as supreme council members Lokman Adam and Mohd Puad Zarkashi, on Tuesday lashed out at the judgment and suggested it was politically motivated.
Lokman, a self-styled party bruiser, told the Malay Mail Online: “Dissolve the Parliament and you will see what will happen. I also think Umno and other MPs have got to do something. It’s time for them to show that they have some balls.”
But by and large, the party’s heavyweights offered measured responses.
MEASURED RESPONSES
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Najib’s former number two who is facing corruption charges of his own, on Tuesday wrote on Facebook that he was “saddened by the decision” but urged everyone to give the former prime minister “room to get justice through the country’s legal process”.
Zahid, who succeeded Najib as Umno president, said the party would soon “make a political decision as a result of today’s decision”.
Foreign Minister Hishammuddin – also Najib’s first cousin – said he accepted the court’s decision with “mixed feelings”.
“Although it’s a heavy outcome, I admire Datuk Seri Najib’s resilience, patience, and grit in dealing with the trial and its tribulations,” he said, using Najib’s honorific title.
Others, such as former youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin took a firmer position. The politician said the party needed to “move forward and carry out the rejuvenation process”.
Asked what he thought of Khairy’s comments, Najib said: “No problem. Everyone can have their views. It’s just an opinion.”
Later, Najib wrote a sarcasm-laced Facebook post thanking the younger pol…
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