Article | Wheeling and dealing to block Mahathir the night BN fell

PETALING JAYA: As afternoon turned to night, unease began to descend upon the once confident Barisan Nasional war room as results from the 14th general election in 2018 began to trickle in.

Where there was once optimism about low voter turnout helping their case, and some exit polls suggesting BN would claim yet another election victory, by midnight it was replaced with the realisation there were few avenues for the coalition to form the government.

The prime minister’s house was a surreal scene that night, recounts Romen Bose, then political communications consultant to Najib Razak.

All the lights were on in the building and the grounds were brightly lit “as if in anticipation of a party or soiree, but the tables and chairs that had been set up were empty. It looked like a party had been abandoned, taking on an aura of a ghost town”, Bose writes in his book ‘Final Reckoning: An Insider’s View of the Fall of Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional Government’.

Elsewhere at the residence, key Umno figures and their families were shell-shocked at the results that were still rolling in. The wives of Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein and deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were in tears.

It was decided that Najib should resign the next day, even though some urged him to keep trying to rope in new partners to form a government.

“I don’t want to hand over power to Mahathir and I want to prevent this,” Bose recalls Najib telling an aide. “But I spoke to Anwar (Ibrahim), as you know, and Wan Azizah can be sworn in as prime minister immediately if Anwar can agree that PKR will come out of Pakatan (Harapan) and be BN friendly. But he has not responded so far.

“I am happy to hand over to Wan Azizah and Zahid can be deputy prime minister, as long as we keep Mahathir away from the premiership. But I have to concede.”

By 2.30am, however, things began to change. Najib said he had decided not to concede immediately, and that he had managed to speak to Anwar but no deal had been cut yet.

Bose said he had heard through a source of another offer, this one from an East Malaysian tycoon.

“(The source) said the tycoon could get 20 opposition MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to become BN friendly and support a BN government, if Najib agreed to immediately implement MA63 (the Malaysia Agreement 1963)”.

Najib agreed to meet the tycoon, and by 4am he arrived at the prime minister’s residence.

“The tycoon said that he could bring over several Sabah and Sarawak MPs but he did not give any specific numbers. He said they would want some provisions of MA63 implemented immediately and would want to be paid RM3-5 million in order to become BN-friendly.

“Najib said that he would not pay to get the MPs but that he would consider providing their constituencies with more facilities and assistance in future budgets in order to secure their support.”

However, the bigger snag was Najib’s reluctance to bow down to the demand that BN get rid of Musa Aman (then Sabah chief minister) and replace him with (Warisan president) Shafie Apdal. Najib was unwilling to remove the highly popular Musa, as doing so threatened to destroy Sabah BN.

Despite this, Bose said Najib told the tycoon to carry on with the plan and to keep him updated on the factors at play.

Clearly, the alleged deal never came to fruition, as it wasn’t long until Najib’s former mentor Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in for his second stint as prime minister. – FMT

credit photo: Sayuti Omar

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