Questions over direction of Najib supporters as state elections loom

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Just short of a year ago, former prime minister Najib Razak began serving a 12-year sentence in jail for the misappropriation of tens of millions in SRC International funds. 

Today, he remains in prison despite efforts by his party Umno to secure his release, including through attempts at obtaining him a royal pardon. 

With elections looming in six states and resistance to an early release for him from within Pakatan Harapan (PH) despite its alliance with Barisan Nasional (BN) at the federal level, questions are swirling over who his supporters will back on polling day.

Political analyst Mazlan Ali said Najib still held strong sway within Umno, the party he led until his downfall at the 14th general election in 2018.

“I am confident that Najib can still have an impact on Umno’s situation in facing the state elections,” he said. 

“If he does not approve, it’s possible that some Umno members will follow him.

“But will they support Perikatan Nasional (PN)?” he added, referring to the federal opposition pact comprising PAS, Bersatu and Gerakan. 

“If Najib tells them to, they might.” 

Najib was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million after the High Court found him guilty in 2020 of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering involving RM42 million in SRC International funds. 

His verdict and sentence were upheld by the Court of Appeal while the Federal Court in March dismissed his final bid for a review of his case. 

This led to renewed efforts by Umno for a royal pardon despite criticism from PH members such as PKR Bukit Bendera Youth chief Amir Syamimi Hashim, who said many others convicted of wrongdoing were serving sentences for lesser crimes without any chance of pardon. 

Amanah leader Khalid Samad meanwhile said that a pardon for Najib would send a negative message to the people, the country’s justice system and the entire world about Malaysia’s attitude towards corruption and abuse of power, sparking anger from Umno leaders including Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi who labelled Amanah as an untrustworthy friend in the current government. 

Khalid later apologised for his statement while Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub apologised on behalf of the party.

Youth-based party Muda, which has worked with PH in the past, also said that any application for a royal pardon for Najib should be rejected.

Rumbles have since continued, with talk of a boycott by Najib’s supporters of the state elections scheduled for Aug 12 in Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.  

Top leaders from both PH and BN have urged mutual support for candidates from either side. And while PH and BN are expected to win big in some seats, the main question is whether the votes of BN supporters will successfully transfer to PH candidates. 

Mazlan said that Najib’s supporters did not hold Anwar responsible as the charges against the former leader were brought under the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. 

Nevertheless, he said, calls for Najib’s release would continue, especially since Umno was now part of the federal government. 

Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia meanwhile played down the odds of Najib’s influence reaching the extent of swaying votes. 

“The trend right now is that many Umno supporters will switch camp to PN, whether or not they back Najib,” he said. 

“The Umno machinery will continue to move, just with less enthusiasm.”

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