KOTA KINABALU: Any right-thinking Malaysians must now be asking why Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is so reluctant to act against the chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak, considering that both allegedly face overwhelming evidences of corruption and possible abuses of power.
Both Musa Aman of Sabah and the long-serving Taib Mahmud of Sarawak are reputedly the richest among 13 chief ministers in Malaysia, having reportedly stashed away billions and still actively accumulating wealth and properties both domestic and abroad.
FMT recently interviewed three scholars here who collectively agreed that Najib’s reluctance was due to possible backlash that might endanger the ruling party’s grip on its “fixed deposits” in the Bornean states.
While the grapevine has not questioned these leaders’ business acumen, the three dons, however, were sceptical about the duo’s “invincibility” and claim that it is Najib’s “fear” that stands in the way.
Dr James Alin, an economist attached to Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), when approached, said that any attempt to prosecute the duo would have unintended consequences on Najib and the Barisan Nasional.
“Najib fears losing support from cronies of Musa and Taib whom Najib himself considered to be within the BN inner circle.
“Another consequence is Najib’s families may lose business partners.
“They set up a monkey trial for Shahrizat [Abdul Jalil] to cover up Umno inner circles’ obvious involvement in the National Feedlot Centre [NFC] scandal. Najib now plays safe when dealing with Musa and Taib because he knows that Anwar Ibrahim can work with them in extreme situation,” said Alin.
The Japanese-trained Alin is of the opinion that Najib is not as Machiavelian as former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“He relies on his cronies to win in Sabah. Fighting Musa would be too costly politically because Umno’s partners in Sabah, Upko and PBS, are [only] pretending to fight for Sabahans.
“Removing Musa makes Sabah Umno unstable, BN will disintegrate. [In Sarawak], Najib knows Sarawakians are fed up with Taib but will not tolerate interference from Kuala Lumpur…” Alin added.
And that explained why Najib, who claimed to be promoting good governance in Malaysia, is so reluctant to act against the “powerful twins” in East Malaysia.
Najib fears backlash
Any harsh actions against the duo would see a backlash which could circumvent Najib’s own inroads here and in Sarawak.
As such, it would be better to leave them lurking and get the best out of the situation and just focus on the Peninsula. What is important is for BN to get a majority of the parliamentary seats from Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan, which together account for only 57 of the total 222.
Dr Arnold Puyok, a political scientist with UiTM in Kota Kinabalu, while sharing Alin’s view that Sabah and Sarawak hold the key to BN’s political survival, said that Najib was fully aware that both leaders had “strong” support among the rural voters.
“Najib has to be careful. He knows support for Musa and Taib is still strong among the rural voters and that could explain why there’s no action against the duo.
“However, compared to Taib, Musa’s position is a bit sticky as he has to deal with factionalism within Sabah Umno. He might be asked to quit by Najib due to pressure from Sabah Umno,” he said.
Puyok also noted that the absence of a suitable heir to Taib could be a reason why compelling him to leave now is untenable.
“There is no sign that Taib is going to step down soon as he still does not have a suitable successor,” he said.
Another scholar from a university here said he expected the premier to ask Musa to step down as chief minister soon and pave the way for a quick transition to a new, fresher leader, possibly from among Musa’s ministers “but it could also be any Umno leader outside of the Cabinet”.
“If Musa refused to step down, then the next thing Najib could do is to reshuffle Sabah Umno, replacing Musa as its head and either promote his deputy Salleh Said Keruak or another leader,” he said, adding that Sabah Umno is not without a better person to replace Musa.
The don, who declined to be named, also pointed out that one reason why Najib is not taking decisive action against the duo was his own fear that any punitive action would open the Pandora box on corruption and abuses in his own government and Umno.
“If the prime minister is clean himself, then he should have taken action rather than keeping our citizens guessing.
“Najib, being non-committal to right the perceived wrongs, will only magnify public perception that he is an accessory to abuses of power,” he added.