Fickled fortune pushes two leaders to the edge

Fickled fortune pushes two leaders to the edge

21 Malaysian

Fortune is a fickle beast that can suddenly propel a nobody to prominence and reduce a king to a commoner.

It has no favourites, as two of this region’s most powerful men discovered last week when fortune pushed them to the precipice and, to paraphrase Steppenwolf, left them with political tombstones in their eyes.

First, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was humiliated by his own people on Tuesday when the country’s legislature held its inaugural confidence vote on the national leadership.

Dung, 63, came in last among the most senior elected officials.

It was a pitiful show, as one third of the members of the National Assembly voted against him, and an astonishing 57 per cent said they did not have complete confidence in him.

Of course, the Vietnamese public has long loathed and ridiculed him, but now large swathes of his own party have turned against him.

Crippled, the man survives by the skin of his teeth only because the dysfunctional Vietnam Communist Party is petrified of the ramifications of sacking him and his coterie of corrupt dunderheads.

The VCP knows it is reviled for chronic economic mismanagement and continued rampant graft, particularly in the huge and inefficient nationalised enterprises that still dominate the economy.

Certainly, Dung’s fellow party members know that if they do not act soon change will be forced on them, either peaceably, as recently in Indonesia and Myanmar, or violently, as in Egypt, Libya and now Turkey.

Concurrently, fortune has also turned against another regional leader, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose position, while not as desperate as Dung’s, is now under severe threat.

Najib, 59, led his ruling National Front government to its worst election result last month.

The Front not only lost more seats than in its disastrous 2008 showing, which caused then PM Abdullah Badawi to quit, but it came second in the total number of votes cast nationwide.

Najib had promised to reverse Abdullah’s shocking losses, but he never came close and as a result the coalition is now a front in name only.

Its Chinese and Indian components deserted en masse to the opposition People’s Alliance led by former Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim.

It was only thanks to pandering to the rural Malay Muslim masses that the Front managed to scrape home with a reduced majority.

So, as with Dung in Vietnam, many now view Najib as a lame duck PM and the kris daggers are already being unsheathed by many in his own party, the United Malays National Organisation.

Last week, one of its old warhorses, Razaleigh Hamzah, openly talked to government and opposition MPs about his desire to replace Najib as PM.

Razaleigh, 76, is a quixotic animal who has already challenged for the premiership back in 1987 when he came close to unseating then PM Mahathir Mohamad.

Ironically, it was the votes of Najib’s faction that helped Mahathir retain power and consigned Razaleigh to the wilderness, until his reassimilation into the party years later.

So there is no love lost between the two men and if Razaleigh can muster 112 MPs he could oust Najib on a parliamentary confidence vote.

It is unlikely to happen, but in acting as a stalking horse he may siphon off enough support from Najib that stronger UMNO leaders will enter the fray and then the PM’s fate will be doomed.

On Thursday, Najib tried to forestall such an outcome by saying he’d got the message from the voters and he will make the Front more meritocratic and restore its appeal to the non-Malay communities.

“The benefits of economic transformation must flow to all Malaysians,” said Najib. “I will work to ensure our national success leaves no one behind.”

That’s going to be a tough task, but unless it happens, and happens fast, fortune will leave him and his hapless Hanoi counterpart dead ducks before the year is out.

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