Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Najib’s State of the Union Address Will Set the Stage for GE13

Much has been made of the presidential appeal of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that has resulted in his approval rating consistently remaining above 60 per cent while Barisan Nasional polls just above 40 per cent.

This is in part because of the way he transcends the party system to connect with voters directly and the personal role that Najib plays in driving key government initiatives, such as the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and the Government Transformation Programme (GTP).

On Tuesday, Najib is reportedly set to take this one step further by conducting a US Presidential-style State of the Union Address to the nation. 

Najib will deliver a report card of his government's achievements and what he believes it still has to accomplish. The stellar performance of the Malaysian economy, which last quarter grew 6.4 per cent, will doubtless take centre stage as will political reform from the scrapping of the ISA to transforming the way we vote.

And he is expected to make a direct appeal for a fresh mandate. By declaring what needs to be done in order for Malaysia to achieve high-income developed nation status by 2020, Najib can place his vision at the heart of his new contract with the rakyat.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala, the architect of the ETP, reportedly briefed news editors and analysts last week on what Najib is expected to speak about.

Such an address will be utterly consistent with Najib's leadership style – he connects with our different ethnic and religious groups directly and, in turn, takes personal responsibility for the actions of his entire government.

And it works. Malaysians of Indian origin have a special regard for the PM and often rate him in polls higher than do Malay voters. When the government speaks to Chinese voters, Najib doesn't stand silently behind MCA leader Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek – it is the PM on Channel 7, at the CNY Open House, and addressing prominent Chinese businessmen at a luncheon.

If there is one thing that Najib would like to achieve from this approach it is winning the trust of Chinese voters. Many are deeply sceptical of the BN parties – as they are of the viability of Pakatan Rakyat – but in Najib they see a man doing the right thing by the economy, reforming our institutions, and providing fresh opportunities for their children, be it vernacular schools or reforming the curriculum.

Following the success of his live 'Conversation with The Prime Minister' last week, could this State of the Union Address be Najib's last public outing before calling GE13? If so, his team would doubtlessly be happy with the positive response his message has so far received.

BN Candidates Finalised

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There are growing indications that Parliament may be dissolved this week and the election called within a month. According to media reports, Barisan Nasional has finalised its candidate list, with 40 per cent of its veterans expected to give way to new blood.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak has already made it clear that only winnable candidates will be chosen to contest in GE13. As a result, several BN veterans have decided to step aside voluntarily, The Star reported Tuesday.
BN currently has 141 MPs, of which 75 have served more than three terms. Sources told The Star that "not all will be replaced but the Prime Minister wants to include new faces as part of his Political Transformation Programme." 

The newspaper named four long-serving Cabinet ministers who are expected to step aside: former International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (Kuala Kangsar), former Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid (Padang Besar), former Home Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad (Kangar), and former Housing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting (Kulai).

Meanwhile, top BN leaders reportedly met on Monday night to finalise the candidate list for the 222 federal and 505 state seats in the upcoming election, sources told The Malaysian Insider.

"PM Najib met with the BN leaders and also the coalition war room strategists last night (Monday) over the final list," a source told the pro-Opposition website.

The source confirmed that BN would field a number of new faces, with Najib retaining those veterans who score high marks in the government's annual report card that he will present in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night.

The Prime Minister's nationally-televised speech will list the achievements of the BN government and the nation's progress made under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Government Transformation Programme (GTP).

"Some ministers will be dropped. Others will be shuffled when the time comes to name the new Cabinet after the elections," the source told The Malaysian Insider, pointing out that BN was confident of winning GE13.

This shows that while Pakatan Rakyat remains weakened by internal squabbles between DAP, PKR and PAS over seat distribution, BN has gone ahead and decided its game plan with consensus and a sense of purpose.

The difference between a united BN and the shaky Opposition is becoming more and more apparent as the election nears.

Why Doesn’t Nik Aziz Retire Now?

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Media reports suggest that a succession plan has been drawn up for PAS spiritual adviser and Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, which will be announced after GE13. Why, we ask instead, doesn't the aging leader retire now?

That would allow fresh faces within PAS to contest the election instead of a 82-year old who is reportedly suffering from various ailments and often spends his time getting medical treatment.

However, PAS is still sticking by Nik Aziz, even though it concedes that he will be contesting for his sixth and 'likely' last term as Menteri Besar.

PAS Supporters Club Council adviser Hu Phang Chaw claimed that a succession plan was prepared months ago, but the Islamist party would only announce this plan at a strategic time.

"It is unlikely to be announced now. Now is about preparing for the next election, which is expected in just weeks now," Hu declared.

Then why bring this up in the first place? Is it to placate Kelantan voters who find themselves still saddled with an aging MB candidate? Or is to soothe the nerves of potential PAS successors, none of whom are getting any younger.

These include state PAS deputy commissioners Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, Husam Musa and Ahmad Yakcop, as well as State Legislative Assembly Speaker Mohd Nasharuudin Daud.

PAS has increasingly found itself out of sync with voters in Kelantan, which it has ruled since 1990. Of the one million voters in the state, more than half are youths. That means having a 82-year old as a MB candidate is more of a political liability than a strength.
But what can the poor party do? There is so much internal bickering within PAS that the leadership has no choice but to stick with Nik Aziz. With PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang eyeing the PM's post, naturally they don't want any nasty surprises in Kelantan.

But voters may yet spring such a surprise, showing that after 22 years they would prefer a change of guard in Kelantan, and a rejuvenated Barisan Nasional could well be the answer.

Indeed, Nik Aziz would be best advised to bring forward his retirement plan and exit gracefully before GE13, so that a likely defeat then would not spoil his farewell party


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