KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Umno’s plan to use Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s imprisonment to rally support for the general election could deal a severe blow to the appeal of Barisan Nasional allies MCA and MIC, analysts have predicted.
Both non-Malay components of Barisan Nasional have been steadily resurgent since the coalition’s defeat in the 2018 general election, due in part from riding Najib’s unlikely popularity in the form of the Malu apa, Bossku? (What is there to be ashamed of, my Boss?) phenomenon.
But these gains could be undone by mounting a defence of Najib who was sent to Kajang Prison after losing his final appeal against his conviction in the SRC International case, the analysts predicted.
“MCA and MIC seemed to be exhibiting some signs of electoral resurrection in the Melaka and Johor state elections, primarily in the new village and rural constituencies, having won some seats each,” Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told Malay Mail when contacted.
“Ironically, some candidates of these two parties welcomed and posed with Najib during the state campaigns, and even attributed their victories partly to Najib’s Bossku appeal. As such, they are also at a dilemma as to whether to continue to embrace Bossku, which will undoubtedly hurt their appeals to the urban and more sophisticated voters.”
During the Johor state election in March, MCA won four seats while MIC took three as part of BN’s dominant performance that saw it secure a supermajority victory.
In Melaka before that, MCA and MIC jointly contributed three seats to help BN win the 2021 state election that also saw DAP lose three seats and PKR wiped out completely.
Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, noted that Umno has already decided it will campaign on the claim that Najib was imprisoned because he was not given a fair trial.
However, he said such a notion will be unpopular among MCA and MIC’s supporters and pointed out that neither BN component has come out to openly defend Najib.
“Both parties are quiet about Najib in prison while Umno is using Najib as their icon despite him being in prison now. I think that’s the correct strategy as the crowd Umno are trying to appease are the ones sympathetic to Najib.
“Whereas the crowds MCA and MIC appeal to are quite different from Umno supporters,” he said.
Azmi said the two BN components will also need to sidestep the topic of Najib and his imprisonment in order to avoid turning off their supporters.
According to Universiti Sains Malaysia political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, MCA and MIC will likely need to renew efforts to distance itself from the 1MDB scandal as Najib’s conviction has made it impossible to deny.
He explained that Umno’s decision to keep denying the scandal — even with Najib’s imprisonment — will present MCA and MIC with greater trust deficits to overcome when trying to communicate with their respective voting communities.
“MCA and MIC must make a determined stand to not go along with Umno in demanding a quick pardon for Najib.
“They also have to make it known that, in their opinion and for BN’s own good, the coalition’s advisor should be replaced,” Ahmad Fauzi told Malay Mail, in reference to Najib’s continued position as the coalition’s advisor.
On August 23, the Federal Court unanimously upheld Najib’s conviction on all seven charges of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, with a sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of RM210 million with immediate effect.
The decision made Najib the first former prime minister in Malaysia to be imprisoned.
Apart from the SRC International case, Najib is also facing four other criminal trials, including two that have yet to start.
According to political analyst and associate professor Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid, MCA and MIC need not distance itself from Umno despite its plan to rally around Najib.
She explained that BN was not monolithic in nature and even Umno members were not all behind Najib.
“MIC and MCA stand with BN, and the alliance must thrive in this challenging time. Without BN, the competition against the opposition will be off and derailed.
“It is best if they show their true allegiance with BN. We must know that the subethnic groups in Chinese (Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hailam, Teochew) and Indians (Tamil, Malayali, Singhalese, Sikhs, et cetera) are pretty much diverse, and differences in their opinions and support towards BN or PH,” she told Malay Mail.
The 15th general election is not due until September 2023 but is expected to be called before the end of the year.