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Najib’s permanent legacy is weakness

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Najib was a weak man to begin with. Unfortunately, he also made Malaysia a weaker country, CW writes. 

Two years ago, thousands of angry Malaysians voted out the corrupt government of the disgraced ex-prime minister Najib Razak, and the coalition led by him recorded the lowest popular vote in Malaysia’s history at 36%.

It was an embarrassing, well-deserved landslide election defeat. After recently marking the second anniversary of the people’s stunning triumph at the ballot box, it might be useful to look back and consider Najib’s legacy.

The 1MDB scandal during his administration was one of the largest financial frauds in global history. But that’s not all: after reviewing the evidence, one can only conclude that Najib’s permanent legacy is weakness. National peace and prosperity are difficult for any government to accomplish, but it was even more difficult for an incompetent politician like Najib.

First, Najib weakened the Malaysian economy: Najib was ranked as Asia’s worst finance minister by Finance Asia Magazine for good reason: under his watch, the Malaysian ringgit plunged to a 16-year low, Malaysia’s gross national income per capita dropped, and the economy racked up among the worst household debt levels in Asia.

The World Bank repeatedly criticised Najib’s government for pushing Malaysia into a middle-income trap and for promoting an education system that was inadequate and, ultimately, incapable of supporting the economy. Imagine, 77% of the Malaysian workforce had only SPM-level (11th year school) education or lower. Under Najib’s watch, in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) to evaluate education systems in 2012, Malaysian students scored poorly as the second-worst performing students in South East Asia.

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As the artist Sheila Majid famously pointed out, the cost of living under Najib skyrocketed while incomes remained low, thereby worsening Malaysians’ economic struggles. For example, a Bank Negara survey showed that under Najib’s watch, three out of four Malaysians found it difficult to raise even RM1,000 for an emergency.

While Najib jabbered vague slogans like “People first, performance now” and “New Economic Model”, the size of Malaysia’s entire economy was still smaller than that of the US state of Wisconsin. And he omitted bad news from economic reports, such as The Economist ranking Malaysia as second only to Russia in its Crony Capitalism Index.

Later, the Wall Street Journal reported that China offered to help bail out 1MDB in return for stakes in railway and pipeline projects, which would have added to Malaysia’s debt burden. China denied the allegation.

Today, Najib probably has a paralysing fear of prison. He knows judges and prosecutors are closely examining the evidence of his alleged financial crimes and that his acquittal in court is not guaranteed.

Time magazine once listed Najib as one of the world’s most unpopular heads of state because of his consistently weak approval ratings. He could not clearly communicate to the rakyat, nor was he able to earn the citizens’ trust during his term of office. Worse, Najib probably couldn’t bear that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim were more popular. 

In several other instances and events, Najib many weaknesses were clearly evident, eg his avoidance of the “Nothing to Hide” public debate, his temper tantrums and storming out of interviews when he couldn’t handle international journalists’ questions, and his trembling submission to US President Donald Trump during his failed visit to Washington.

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The many critics arrested or hauled up during his administration and his enactment of a Fake News Act were also signs of weakness – not of power.

Najib’s global reputation sank because of his poor international credibility and status. On at least five occasions, Najib appeared to be ignored or shunned by world leaders on the international stage.

All in, US$681m (RM2.6bn) of public funds was redirected into Najib’s personal bank account. Malaysian police also seized RM1.1bn in cash, jewellery, and hundreds of designer handbags from six properties around Kuala Lumpur linked to him. Najib then tried to claim that his family’s massive haul of loot was a collection of “gifts” from other government officials, which triggered howls of laughter from many Malaysians.

During Najib’s rule, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer found that Malaysians’ trust in the Barisan Nasional (BN) government fell to its worst levels. Immediately after Najib and Barisan Nasional were finally booted out of Putrajaya, Malaysians’ trust levels shot up by 9 percentage points.

Najib may imagine himself to be a strong leader, but he almost single-handedly caused the BN regime to lose their 60-year grip on Malaysia. Worse, under his administration, Malaysia became synonymous with corruption.

None of these is disputed.

Even with the current fragile Perikatan Nasional (PN) backdoor government, Najib is still legally blocked from departing the country. He is still required to show up in court to account for his unpaid RM1.69bn in income taxes, the SRC scandal, the 1MDB scandal and other cases.  He has few fans and followers willing to show up in court to lend support.

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He and his materialistic family members were repeatedly put on notice by Sarawak Report, The Wall Street Journal, and even the US Department of Justice, so it is little wonder most Malaysians in the know will offer him zero sympathy.

Najib was a weak man to begin with. Unfortunately, he made Malaysia a weaker country: economically, geopolitically, and strategically. Malaysians are still paying for Najib’s countless failures – which highlights the truism that real leaders must serve their people – not the reverse.

CW is a reader of Aliran

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