Monday, October 13, 2008

Advice, solicited or not, landing on Najib's lap


OCT 13 - Many well-meaning Malaysians and a few opportunists have been beating a path to the home and office of the country's next prime minister.

Some of them urged Datuk Seri Najib Razak to throw caution to the wind when he takes over in March by introducing wide-ranging reforms and making more structural changes to the economy, including revisiting the New Economic Policy and liberalising the services sector.

Others have bent his ears with ideas of winning over non-Malays and young professionals – the two categories of people who appear more inclined to listen to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim than any Barisan Nasional leader.

Quite a few wanted to know how Najib was going to handle a revitalised and energised Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Was he going to set up a panel of advisors headed by Dr Mahathir and be guided by their decisions? Was he going to give the former prime minister an advisory position in the administration? Was he going to politely decline the offer of help and advice from Dr Mahathir?

Informed sources told The Malaysian Insider that the Deputy Prime Minister has great respect for the experience and wisdom of Dr Mahathir and would tap on his ideas to reform Umno and strengthen the economy.

"The DPM will seek out input from various sources including Dr Mahathir (right) but he will not be anyone's puppet.

"My sense is that he will not accept being criticised in public just because he is not following someone else's prescription for the party and country,'' said a source.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the favourite to become the Umno deputy president and deputy prime minister, believes that Najib will be his own man.

"It will be improper for anyone to say the country and Umno would be under the control of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when Najib takes over the premiership… I don't think Najib would want it to happen as he has his own political programmes to re-strengthen Umno and regain the people's confidence," he told reporters after opening the Pagoh Umno division general assembly yesterday.

Several political pundits have speculated that Najib's term in office will mark the return of Mahathirism. This analysis is based on the fact that Najib's thinking and philosophy have been greatly shaped by serving more than two decades under the former prime minister and the fact that he would not want to tangle with someone who seems bent on righting the wrongs of the Abdullah era.

Dr Mahathir did little to dismiss the view that he would want a bigger say in policy matters under Najib's administration.

In an interview with The Star, he said: "We cannot give too much power to the PM and president of Umno because he can abuse it. I have been saying he should have a panel of advisers, one each for the PM and Umno president to ensure he doesn't go off on a tangent.

"That way it would be difficult for the Prime Minister to favour his family. The panel should not be appointed by him, maybe Mubarak (the association of former Barisan Nasional MPs and assemblymen) can play a role. If asked, I would be willing to serve for free.''

He reiterated this point in Melbourne, saying that Najib needs to consult former elected representatives and experts in running the country.

At this point, it appears that Najib will consult a whole spectrum of individuals and interest groups before making major decisions. He has already started looking for resource groups and a brains trust.

But it is unclear whether he will want to have a formal structure like a council or panel of advisors and be bound by their decisions.

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