Sunday February 10, 2013
Najib limbers up for the final lap
By JOCELINE TAN
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has entered the final lap of what has been a political marathon in the race for the hearts, minds and votes of Malaysians.
EVERYONE knew Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was in for a punishing pace when he took over as Prime Minister.
His family had asked his office to try to keep Sundays free so that he could have some downtime. But Sundays off have been more of a rarity than the norm ever since Najib’s political tour of the country took off in earnest last year. These days, he would be lucky to reach home by Sunday evening.
Najib is entering “the final lap”, as those around him have been saying. Everyone is waiting for the bell to go off for the Great Race aka the 13th General Election.
“I thought he would do a short sprint and call the general election but he’s running long distance. I’ve forgotten how many laps he has run. I thought I heard the bell for the final lap go off a few times, but I guess I heard the wrong bell,” said publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin.
The Prime Minister is down to the final preparations. Some of his staff were amused when the media made one wrong polls date prediction after another last year.
But Najib is now in election mode. He has rolled up his sleeves and is poring over the final candidates list.
“All I can say is he has a date in mind,” said a Putrajaya source.
Najib has been running a marathon and is preparing to break into a sprint. Earlier last week, he launched the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, which has attracted investment commitments totalling RM10.5bil and will create some 8,500 jobs. It will be the new stimulus to the growth corridor between Pahang, and Terengganu’s oil and gas hub.
The Chinese delegation that came for the launch was led by no less than Jia Qingling. He is chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference and regarded as China’s fourth most powerful political leader.
The project reflects the standing Najib enjoys in terms of Malaysia-China relations and the goodwill from the legacy of his late father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
Najib looked confident, relaxed and even a little sanguine as he played host in his home state. Ties between Malaysia and China are at an all-time high, and Najib had mentioned to those around him that when the Chinese have confidence in you and agree to support you, they move fast and in a big way.
The Chinese government’s confidence also suggests that they are confident Najib will still be Prime Minister after the general election.
The Chinese delegation presented him with a bronze drum, which, they said, symbolises power, good fortune and blessings. It was quite astute of them because that is what every politician in the country is praying for these days.
“He has used his incumbency to make things happen. He has been able to deliver,” said a Penang lawyer.
Anyone looking at the numerous hurdles that Najib has had to overcome and what he has managed to accomplish tends to forget he has been Prime Minister only since April 3, 2009.
At that time, Tan Sri Dr Ibrahim Saad, Malaysia’s former Ambassador to the Philippines, had told The Star: “He is coming to power at a very trying time in every sense of the word and I don’t envy him.”
In hindsight, Dr Ibrahim’s remark was an understatement given the sort of challenges Najib has had to face. He spent the first two years tackling the economy and putting in place an economic and political transformation plan and setting his own party, Umno, back on course.
There have been several milestones in his administration and one of them must surely be the abolition of the Internal Security Act in 2011. He took on a taboo subject that no other Prime Minister had been willing to.
He has taken his Janji Ditepati brand to every state and the message is simple: he is a Prime Minister who delivers on his promises. He does not promise heaven and deliver nothing.
He has traversed the country, doing walkabouts in urban areas like Brickfields and Petaling Street and visiting remote longhouses in Sarawak. He lent his clout to Malaysia’s role in the Mindanao peace agreement, his visit to Gaza gave a huge boost to the Palestinian cause, and there is talk of a major development in South Thailand soon.
Previous Prime Ministers were able to seek their own mandate soon after coming in but Najib, who had started out in politics with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth, has had to work harder than anyone else to show he deserves to be up there.
The first sign that he had started to turn around things for Barisan Nasional came when he arrested the by-elections losses in 2009. It was a clear sign that the votes, especially the Malay votes, had begun to shift back to Barisan. The coalition now commands a clear majority of the Malay vote.
Najib is a well-regarded figure among many Indians. He has gone down to them, he has listened closely to what they want and the fact that he is the first Prime Minister to have visited Batu Caves in 30 years means something to them. He will definitely enjoy more Indian support than his predecessor this election.
He has left no stone unturned. His 1Malaysia policy has become his calling card and he has embraced the social media and the power of the Internet to reach out to the youth.
But the urban Chinese voters in the Klang Valley, Penang and the Kinta Valley are still resistant to his overtures. They say they like him but they are not over their dissatisfaction with Umno.
People around him have asked why he continues to reach out and to engage a group that seems so determined to punish his party and coalition.
His more pragmatic friends have asked him not to spend time and resources on people who are not going to support him. Such resources, they said, could be better used on those who appreciate his leadership and want to see him go on as Prime Minister.
But Najib is not giving up. He wants to bring everyone on board. He feels he knows and understands them and he wants to strike a balance between Malaysia’s different races.
Hence, his bid to win the Chinese heart with China’s first-ever overseas university campus to be set up in Malaysia. The Xiamen University ranks among the top 20 universities in China and the RM600mil branch campus will be located in Sepang, Selangor.
Again, this is the result of the Najib name opening doors among the Chinese powers-that-be. The medium of instruction in the university will be English and courses offered would include medicine, business and economics, Chinese language and literature, chemical engineering and bio-engineering.
An editorial in the leading Chinese language newspaper Sin Chew Daily described it as the “Springtime for Chinese education in Malaysia.”
Najib has been around long enough to know that a government will be stable only if it has the support of all the races in a multi-racial country like Malaysia. A government or leader that speaks only to one particular race will have problems. He genuinely wants to be the Prime Minister of all Malaysians.
Earlier last week, radio listeners heard a rather familiar voice say in Mandarin: “Na Ji. Wo shi Na Ji (I am Najib).” It took a while for those listening to recognise that it was the Prime Minister taking tentative steps in the Chinese language alongside his Mandarin-speaking son Nor Ashman.
Najib’s name in Chinese sounds like “embracing luck” while his son, who had spent time in Beijing to learn Mandarin, is known as “Ji Ping”, the Chinese name given him by his classmates.
Both then greet listeners with what appeared to be traditional spring couplets, using their Chinese names to express hopeful and happy thoughts for the coming year.
Najib wished everyone: “Na ji ying chun (good fortune and welcome spring).” Nor Ashman followed with: “Si ji ping an (Peace for all seasons).”
Their pronunciation was not quite there but the effort went down well with listeners.
Najib’s broad-based appeal is still on the ascent and that is why the ugly attacks by Pakatan cybertroopers in the Internet have begun to backfire on the Pakatan parties.
The more rational among the Chinese recognise Najib as a sincere, capable and hard-working leader. People have eyes, as they say, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed among the Chinese.
Chinese voter sentiment has actually softened over the last one year.
A year ago, the Chinese vote in the Klang Valley had been hard on Barisan with only 20% saying they would vote Barisan and some 70% leaning to Pakatan. Only 10% were undecided.
More recent surveys show that the undecided among the Chinese have increased from 10% a year ago to an all-time high of about 50%.
Those who said they would support Barisan are still at around 20% while those who said they would vote Pakatan have gone from 70% to 30%. In short, the Chinese vote is still open to persuasion.
The Chinese heart is not set in stone after all and Najib feels vindicated that he did not give up on the Chinese support.
“The PM wants to bring everyone along with him. He has a very clear vision and he wants to share it with all races,” said Pahang state exco member Datuk Sharkar Shamsuddin.
Najib has been meticulous and has not taken anything for granted since the political tsunami. He is “cautiously optimistic” but those around him say he is as ready as can be.
The momentum is with him and everything is about to come down to the moment when the bell rings for the final lap of the race of his lifetime.
> Joceline can be reached at email@example.com