Sunday, September 21, 2008

Najib Razak might just have to seize his chance

There are things that we are usually quite happy to do, but from which we shy away if the circumstances seem unpropitious.

For instance, as reported in 'Every hero has his weakness', Mum is ever ready to tend to Sonny's needs and wants, unless he happens to be regurgitating his dinner: Vomit is especially repellant to her. Well, it's pretty much like that, we suspect, with the current Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak. The prospect of rising to the top job is probably agreeable to him; with a long apprenticeship in politics behind him and his lineage being what it is (he is the son of one former premier and nephew of another), he probably feels as much entitled to it as anyone else.

But oh dear, the rotten timing of it. The ruling coalition he would helm as Prime Minister is teetering on the brink of disaster, with enough lawmaker-members possibly willing to defect to an opposition grouping to throw control of the government to the other side. His own party is split amongst (a) an ever-diminishing rump still loyal to his boss, current prime minister Abdullah Badawi; (b) a faction that wants to boot Abdullah out in December's party elections in favour of a coterie of veterans led by a dissident prince and (c) his own supporters, many of whom want him in charge yesterday.

In short, viewed dispassionately, this is the perfect time to take cover behind your superior, let him stagger under the hits in trying to reform the party (so as to reclaim lost electoral ground) and await calmer seas before reaching for the tiller. Who would want to be known as the captain who was serving when a cruise of over 50 years (for that's how long Malaysia has been in existence, with no changeover in government) is abruptly terminated by passengers who could no longer stomach the crew? The problem, of course, is that more and more members of the crew want the current captain to walk the plank, sharpish: If Najib doesn't step up to take command, however much his instincts may counsel prudence, support might coalesce around someone else altogether.

Right now, then, Najib's doing the best he can: He's hedging like crazy. He's expressing support for a transition plan under which he would contest the party polls with Abdullah, as a team, in exchange for a 2010 handover of power. If enough of his supporters, potential and actual, are willing to hold off for a couple of years, it's the best deal for him: The storm would hopefully have calmed by then, leaving his coalition either consigned to the opposition benches - in which case he can start with a clean slate and new realities - or with a firmer grasp of the situation, meaning he wouldn't have to expend his store of early goodwill squelching crisis after crisis. However, acknowledging that the drumbeat for change might prove be too insistent, he has also indicated that 'it is up to the party grassroots to signal acceptance of the transition plan': In short, if they insist on telling him that he must either be party boss or has-been, he would throw Abdullah over the side and wear the captain's cap.

It's a cautious enough strategy and might work out in his favour. But when Sonny takes it into his head to upchuck his dinner, it's normally sooner rather than later that Mum has to overcome her aversion and approach with cleaning cloth and tissue. Otherwise, a rather unpleasant smell may infect the entire environs, and Sonny's soiled clothes will become much harder to clean.

So it may prove with Najib. Chances are, it's the captain's cabin for him, sharpish.