Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Tuesday, 4th November 2008:

Najib: Leader of UMNO but not the country?

It is not a surprise that deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has won the leadership of ruling UMNO uncontested, setting him on track to hold the top job in the country.

UMNO leaders have said Najib's victory reflects the unity within the party. In reality, it embodies the hope that a new President would repair the image of UMNO and possibly regain the confidence of the people, especially Malays.

Let's look at Najib's credentials - he is the son of Malaysia's second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, his name features prominently in the murder of a Mongolian woman and Najib has also been slammed for allegedly receiving huge kickbacks involving submarine deals. His recent claim to fame skirts around the irregularities in the suspended purchase of 12 Eurocopter helicopters.

This man will become the country's next Prime Minister.

UMNO divisions, on the other hand, had unanimously voted for Najib despite the controversies surrounding the Prime Minister in waiting.

This clearly reflects that party leaders are grappling to win back the support of the people, who shunned UMNO and ruling component parties at the March general election.

The strategy is clear - a new party President and a change of guards is expected to work miracles. Najib is touted to bring Malays back to the UMNO fold and regain the support of the electorate. In short he is entrusted with the responsibility of saving UMNO.

But this is easier said than done. Najib might have the support of UMNO division leaders but not the rest of the country. This includes the Malays and non-Malays who are not in UMNO. Najib would have to carry out reforms and make a concerted effort to wipe out corruption in the party and country.

Whether or not Najib would be able to do this remains a question. The recent events in the country show that Najib's focus is to become the next premier at whatever cost and every effort had been made to thwart any opposition.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the billion-ringgit Eurocopter deal. Najib was not summoned for the PAC hearing and it is a long shot that Najib would be called to testify at the Anti-Corruption Agency's investigation into the same matter.

A private investigator who alleged Najib's involvement in Altantuya Shaariibuu's murder in a sworn affidavit had gone missing. Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the prominent blogger, who unveiled dirt on Najib faces indefinite detention without trial.

As opposed to initiating serious changes within UMNO, Najib is widely expected to curb dissent to his rule using various preventive laws. He certainly would not rock the boat. There are concerns that the country might witness a return of Mahathirsm.

So we would have a Prime Minister who enjoys the support of UMNO leaders and is rejected by the people. Is this the new disparity we would see in the country or would Najib lead UMNO and Barisan Nasional to its demise?

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang