KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s attempt to scare the Malays through communal politicking will not work, said analysts who viewed the former prime minister’s recent criticism against the Najib government as “tactical”.
Yesterday, Dr Mahathir, the influential former Umno president, speaking at the 2012 Malay Economic Congress, called Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration “weak” and hinted that it was making too much concessions to non-Malays.
Malaysia’s longest-serving premier argued that the country’s majority race is now divided and is fast becoming a “beggar” dependent on the support and sympathy of the minorities.
This was the second time Mahathir had openly criticised Najib just ahead of the 13th general election, but he said current premier cannot take the blame alone.
He cited Malay disunity as key to the current government’s predicament.
Political observers noted that Mahathir’s strategy had often been used in the past, but the tactic may still be effective in driving the Malays away from the opposition.
“This is apparently a scare tactic. It may work on the rural Malays but not the urban Malays,” said analyst James Chin of Monash University.
“If you look at the key institutions of the government, they are still held by the Malays,” he said, adding that much of Mahathir’s race rhetoric has the least impact on an informed and decided electorate.
But Chin agreed with the view that Mahathir’s attack on Najib may not all be strategic and that the former premier, who was instrumental in the ousting of the latter’s predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is indeed unhappy with some of the current government’s policies.
Observers noted that Najib may have angered the conservatives from within his own party with plans to enhance non-Malay participation in the economy and promote better civil liberties, a move that may be seen as pandering to non-Malay demands.
There is also rising discontent among the party ranks over Najib’s supposed lenient response to the increasingly vocal non-Malay opposition, especially on sensitive issues like vernacular education and Malay rights.
“It [Mahathir's criticism] is a caution to the Najib government that it is weak in all these areas,” said Agus Yusoff , an analyst formerly with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaya.
On whether Mahathir’s tactic will influence the Malays or have any impact on Najib’s rating, Agus believed Mahathir’s gibes present a real problem for the present administration.
On the one hand, Najib will have to contain the simmering frustration of Umno’s far right; on the other, he must push on for reforms if he wants to win over a large chunk of the young voters as well as the non-Malays.
“But I don’t see that happening. He has done much but still the non-Malays especially the Chinese are anti-government,” he said.