Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s image and personal appeal has grown over the last one year and the opinion is that he is taking the country in the right direction but his own party and the ruling coalition are still catching up with his pace.
DATUK Seri Najib Tun Razak must have lost count of the birthday cakes he has cut this month.
The Prime Minister turned 57 on July 23, and has been presented with one pulut kuning concoction after another over the last week.
But the big one was the tahlil gathering in his Putrajaya residence which saw a huge gathering of family, friends and political colleagues, some of whom came from as far as Perlis and Sabah.
It seems to get bigger each year, and it was just as well that Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor have finally moved into Seri Perdana where the grounds are more spacious.
This year, there was a huge pulut kuning creation that was more green than yellow. It had the design of a golf course complete with a figurine of a golfer teeing off towards a flag with the initials DSN – Datuk Seri Najib.
Najib, surrounded by his mother, wife and their children, playfully picked up the yellow coloured golf ball and held it up.
The Prime Minister, as some have pointed out, has had to juggle a lot of balls in his first year as Prime Minister. The most powerful job in the country has also been quite formidable.
“The PM spent most of last year fixing the economy and government. His hiccup so far has been the political part. But he’s now turning his attention to politics, the party and Barisan Nasional,” said former Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.
The 10th Malaysia Plan has been passed by the Dewan Rakyat. This is his baby and it will be the Government’s blueprint for the next five years. Prior to that, he had unveiled the New Economic Model and his 1Malaysia concept, basically vision maps for how he would like to bring this country forward.
The plans to move ahead have been laid out, the challenge now is to get it off the ground.
“He understands the challenges Malaysia faces today,” said Khaw Voon Szu, executive director of the Gerakan think-tank Sedar.
The last one year or so under Najib has been very different from the preceding four years. He is a hands-on Prime Minister; he knows what needs to be done and has hit the ground running.
Those who have been with Najib from his days as the Deputy Prime Minister are not surprised at how quickly he adapted to the job. They said he was chairing up to 32 Cabinet committees when he was the No. 2; it was almost as good as running the Government.
He takes his duties seriously. He told someone recently that the most daunting part of his job is realising the impact of his decisions as Prime Minister. And that he really thinks things through to get it as right as possible.
Journalists who have seen him up close say he is punctual and does not waste time. He knows his subject, keeps to the point and does not ramble. He is among the younger political leaders in the region, he has ideas and he is energetic.
Najib’s image is on the rise.
There is no denying that he has emerged as the credible core of his coalition. He has come across as hardworking, experienced, focused and alert. And, as many people have pointed out, he is sincere about what he is trying to do for the country.
“People are attracted to his method of working and the way he has managed the economy. They talk about how he has gone down to the ground. He is enjoying a bigger profile than that of the Barisan,” said a senior Chinese lawyer.
Besides, no other Prime Minister has reached out to the Chinese and Indians the way he has.
As the Chinese lawyer said, it is hard to find many people who would disapprove of what he is trying to do, be it the walkabouts, his efforts at managing the Government or his 1Malaysia message – unless one is expressly with the opposition.
“I wish he could do more but you cannot fault him for not trying,” said the lawyer.
However, the circle around the Prime Minister was unimpressed with the 72% popularity rating put out by the Merdeka Centre a few months ago.
One reason is that Najib is not easily seduced by feel-good feedback. The other reason is that the group around the Prime Minister has some long-standing issues with the polling and research body and tends to be sceptical about its findings.
Besides, they said, if the Prime Minister’s profile has been in the positive zone, how is it that Barisan has not done better in the string of by-elections since 2008?
Najib broke protocol to campaign in Sibu and Hulu Selangor, staking his prestige on a number of issues and yet the Barisan lost one and won the other with a narrow majority.
One reason, said Idris, is that the electorate’s regard for him has not percolated down to his coalition.
A growing segment of Chinese are warming up to him but still have issues with Umno and even with the MCA and Gerakan.
That aside, Najib’s challenge, according to many political observers, is that he seems to be doing it all alone. This is the impression of many people out there.
“The perception is that his immediate team, the Cabinet, are not pulling their weight. They are not going the extra mile to complement his ideas and efforts. Only a few ministers strike me as being fully in tune with what Najib envisions,” said Khaw.
The Gerakan think-tank head named Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah as one of those ministers who reflects Najib’s 1Malaysia vision, who is intelligent and accountable and who brings a great deal of commitment to his work.
“There must be more people like that to make it work,” said Khaw.
At another level, Najib’s own party has shown very clearly that he is the man they want to lead Umno and he enjoys a good relationship with his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Not all his lieutenants appear to fully understand their president’s aspirations, however. Many are still trying to come to terms with the new political scenario.
“He is not only thinking about himself and Umno. He is also sending out a message that I am here for everybody, that decisions are made for all Malaysians. That’s why some of the Government’s decisions are not popular with Umno,” said Umno politician Datuk Subahan Kamal, the assemblyman for Taman Templar in Selangor.
But, said Subahan, other component parties also have to give the 100% backup that the Prime Minister needs.
“The PM is working very hard. There is no longer the impression that we have a laidback and slow-moving PM. He thinks and he acts. He chairs meetings, makes decisions, meets people, goes to the ground.
“Some days, he is in three or four places in a day. Everyone can see how much he puts into his work and how determined he is but the rest of his team have to do more,” said an Umno official.
Some have likened his situation to that of the driver of a bus loaded with passengers and baggage. Those on the bus are enjoying the ride but not everyone is playing his full role to help the driver reach the next destination.
“They should be helping to navigate, pump up the tyres, push and pull and wash the bus. Najib is left doing most of the work,” said a senior MCA figure.
It used to be that the Prime Minister was able to ride on the strength of his component parties, on what they could deliver from their own constituencies of support. Now, the component parties are riding on him.
Najib would have been able to win on his own merit in a presidential system. But this country practises the Westminster system; the Cabinet, the coalition and even the civil service has to be effective for the Prime Minister to strengthen his hold on power.
But the Westminster system allows the Prime Minister the prerogative to decide on the date for elections. Given that, Najib may not want to wait too long before seeking his own mandate.
“Winning his own mandate will give him more political clout,” said Khaw.
It will give him more political control over his bus and the passengers and he will also be in a better position to off-load the excess baggage.
Some say that the polls are not too far away now that Najib has started to shift his attention to politics. Others say don’t expect anything till after his next birthday.
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