DATUK Seri Najib Razak and BossKu – two names that belong to Malaysia’s 6th Prime Minister and whenever you mention any of these, a few things come to mind: Facebook posts which report facts, a reference tool for researchers, requests for selfies by the members of the public wherever he goes, 1Malaysia, his legendary projects during his term of office and the never-ending court cases and allegations piled on him.
Despite all of the above, BossKu as he is usually referred to, seems to be a force to be reckoned with – both among his supporters, UMNO members and the government of the day. No one current Cabinet member or past prime ministers have garnered the kind of popularity that Najib enjoys.
In an article in the Star today, columnist Joceline Tan said that BossKu did not expect any kind of welcome when he arrived at the Health Ministry office to pay the fine for breaching the SOP at a chicken rice shop. But as he got out of his car, people including government staff, started cheering and calling out to him from the balconies of the four-storey complex.
“The Bossku phenomenon has made the former premier a big voice on social media. On Hari Raya eve, a playful Facebook post asking his fans what they thought of his salmon-pink baju Melayu drew 75,000 likes within an hour. By the next morning, there were 118,000 likes plus thousands of comments.” (Update: It’s 126k Likes as at time of publication.)
He has a massive fan base and also detractors, some of whom noted that the colour of his outfit resembled prison attire while several others told him he would be spending the next Hari Raya in jail.
Najib The Opinion Shaper
Joceline went on to add that Najib is an opinion shaper in Umno and his media postings are often picked up by Umno chatgroups. “Even former Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Samad, who was a fierce critic of Najib and the 1MDB scandal, said that whoever aspires to be the next president of Umno will need the backing of Najib as well as the incumbent president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“Despite multiple corruption charges, the two men still wield influence in the party. There are also whispers that Najib is eyeing a comeback as Umno president while Ahmad Zahid intends to defend his position.”
However, the writer cautioned that the unspoken opinion in Umno is that a Najib comeback would be a step backwards whereas having Ahmad Zahid lead the party into the next general election would be disastrous.
“Umno is at a loss as to how to find an exit plan for the pair. However, something curious has developed after the Umno general assembly in March. The wind has shifted and the name increasingly mentioned for the party leadership is deputy Umno president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan or Tok Mat as he is known.”
She added that people in the party are taking notice of Tok Mat.
“Initially it was largely those in the Youth and Puteri wings of Umno who were swayed over after his keynote address at the party’s general assembly last month. But now, senior party members are also starting to take a closer look at Tok Mat. His periodic statements – he writes all of it himself – on issues from party matters to the pandemic and the economy have enabled his audience to evaluate the way he thinks and what he is about.”
Joceline questioned whether Tok Mat is on the way to the top, although she cautioned that it is better not to predict because it is a slippery road to the top.
“Moreover, Tok Mat is up against two other ambitious aspirants, namely, Senior Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. They have what Tok Mat does not have – high-profile Cabinet portfolios and the backing of powerful UMNO division chiefs.
“They are also eligible for the post of deputy prime minister should Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin decides to appoint one.”
An UMNO insider said the two ministers have agreed between them that whoever the Prime Minister appoints as deputy prime minister should go on to be the next president of UMNO. This agreement, if at all true, is deeply flawed and will not go down well with the grassroots. It is akin to allowing the president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to decide on who should be the president of UMNO.
“Based on the mood at our last party AGM, the party wants a leader whose loyalty to Umno is 100%. The party has said ‘No’ to Bersatu. It means that anyone still dancing with Bersatu has to be careful, ” said supreme council member Datuk Seri Sharkar Shamsudin.
Ismail Sabri, who is a Senior Minister and the top-ranking party vice-president, was riding high last year thanks to his daily televised briefings on the COVID-19 situation. But his briefings of late have been cluttered with confusing acronyms, leaving the public more bewildered rather than informed.
“He is nevertheless a serious contender – very popular in the party, humble, hardworking and has an impressive political network. Hishammuddin, long regarded as “PM material, ” made the biggest mistake of his career when he dropped out of the last Umno election.
“It left him without a seat in the supreme council and, worse, it was seen as running away when the party was at rock bottom.”
However, Joceline went on to write that the UMNO crowd had started to warm up to him again until word got out that he was eyeing the presidency. It smacked of entitlement that someone who was not there when the party was at its lowest was now eyeing the highest post.
“Hishammuddin has not indicated anything at all but his social media profile portrays him as some sort of PM designate. His video on the Prime Minister’s official visit to Brunei featured Hishammuddin so prominently that it was thought he was the main star. His social media team needs to find the reset button.”
Quoting supreme council member Datuk Seri Johari Ghani: “Loyalty has become an important factor for us after how our MPs abandoned the party. The leader has to be able to defend the party, take it forward.
Must Be Acceptable To The Masses
“But he must also be acceptable to the masses outside UMNO because they will decide whether the party can return to power,” said Johari, a self-made millionaire and is one of the most influential voices in the supreme council today. When Johari speaks, they listen.
Asked on his personal preference for the party leadership, he said without hesitation: “I chose Tok Mat. My take is that Tok Mat could also rank high among the general public,” he said.
Finding the UMNO leader who is also a suitable prime minister candidate in UMNO is like looking for the mythical unicorn.
Johari said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was probably the only one who ticked all the boxes. But he overstayed and people were more than ready for something different when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came into the picture.
The mood in UMNO today is reminiscent of that point in time, a certain restlessness for change. The party seems to be yearning for someone who is different from what they are used to, who represents a shift forward. But Johari said that before all that can happen, the party needs to find an amicable solution to the two big boys – Bossku and Ahmad Zahid. – The Star