By Zainal Epi
Najib Tun Razak can only shake his head in dismay as the reports and briefings all paint a very bleak future for the Barisan Nasional.
The message is depressingly the same: in the next polls bout, his ruling coalition stands little chance of regaining the states lost to Pakatan Rakyat. Worse still, the opposition may make new gains in several states.
The prime minister and BN supremo is in a pickle: how to stem the tide? How to rally the disgruntled people to his cause? His pet projects lie virtually in tatters, his party members are ripping each other apart, his coalition partners are tearing into each other, while his political foes are growing stronger by the day.
The situation is so bad that some opposition leaders believe that Najib may resort to extreme measures to stop the deepening rot – exploit every issue, create a climate of fear, push the country to the brink and then invoke the draconian Internal Security Act.
The reasoning is that with all his opponents in Kamunting, he may entertain hopes that he can go to the polls playing the role of a saviour. The bad guys are not around to spoil his party. Only the good guys – him and his fellow dudes – are left and people will have no choice but to play along.
But political observers do not think Najib will turn into a desperado simply because the crude antics may backfire. People may choose to stay home.
Najib is left with one window of opportunity – the Sarawak election. A convincing victory over there will throw a lifeline to his sinking sampan. But the outlook is not so rosy. When Sibu fell in the recent battle, it clouded the prospects of the BN. Then there is Taib Mahmud, the White Rajah of Sarawak.
The chief minister is a millstone around Najib's neck. BN leaders find it hard to deal with this man who has been around for nearly 30 years. He throttled the state and “robbed” it of its fabulous wealth. He has overstayed his welcome and there are now signs that he is losing his grip. The coming state election may well see Taib and Najib's doom.
Many politicians in Kuala Lumpur predict that the downfall of Sarawak BN will trigger a domino effect. Sabah will fall and so will the other states in the peninsula when the next general election is called. This is a scary fate for Najib.
Najib knows he needs to act fast. His sampan is leaking badly. The “rats” are deserting him. He is the only one putting his oars to troubled waters. There is little hope he can reach shore safely. All around him the storm is howling mad.
The MCA has recently whipped up a maelstrom of anger when it treaded on sensitive ground. It aroused the ire of Perkasa and many Umno leaders. It looked as if they were ready to start a civil strife. The venomous atmosphere is what Najib least needed at a time when he is trying to regain the trust of the voters.
Najib sorely needs the Chinese vote bank to stay intact. Problem is he is courting the Chinese at the expense of the Malay voters and at the same time antagonising Umno members. His efforts at fence-mending in the BN may be fruitless judging by the reports on his table. They all point to one incontrovertible conclusion: the Chinese are staying away from BN.
An Umno member said all the reports and briefings done by concerned groups for the benefit of Najib revealed the real picture of the voter trend. The flow is not going his away.
There were more disturbing news when Najib was told that the BN would not be able to retake all the states it lost in 2008. What must be more unnerving is that more states may fall to the opposition juggernaut.
A source said that during the briefings, Najib was informed that states like Terengganu, Perak and Negri Sembilan are tottering. The ongoing internal bickering in Terengganu Umno is damaging and may well be the cause of its collapse. Perak may be a simple case of the people exacting political vengeance.
The source added that Negri Sembilan is another problematic state where the main issue is the feud between the Umno divisions and Menteri Besar Mohd Hassan.
More bad news piled up on Najib's table. Johor, long considered an Umno's bastion, is showing signs of crumbling as the opposition is making credible headway.
The big question is: why is the opposition making inroads into BN territories?
“It is not so much how strong the opposition is as how weak the component parties in the coalition are,” a party insider said.
“The MCA is truly losing ground and that explains its leader's controversial statements.
“Gerakan is totally out of the loop as the party is no longer seen as relevant to any of the races despite its multi-racial but Chinese-based concept,” he added.
An Umno member said: “The MIC is not functioning and so is the PPP. The Indian voters are searching for a solid political platform.”
So that leaves BN with only Umno. What can Umno do on its own? What can Najib accomplish if he is all alone?
Said another Umno member: “We feel that Najib is in a Catch-22 position. If he helps the Malays, he may lose the support of the other races. If he helps the Chinese and the Indians, he may see his Malay support evaporate.”
He said that someone floated the idea of a merger with an an NGO or even PAS to boost support for Umno. But the snag is the only reliable and strong NGO is Perkasa and the right-wing group is not the darling of the non-Malay crowd.
“PAS is split into two factions – the fundamentalists and the liberals (which are pro-Anwar Ibrahim). The fundamentalists are comfortable with the idea of a tie-up with Umno provided the prime minister comes from PAS while the liberals want PAS to stay with Pakatan Rakyat and Anwar to be the prime minister.
“With their demand, it is difficult for the fundamentalists to sit down and begin serious talks with Umno,” the Umno member said.
Perkasa may look an attractive proposition but the NGO is not too keen to change into a political entity and team up with Umno.
“Politicking is creeping into Perkasa. The fear is that if the NGO becomes a political party, then it may face the same troubles as Umno,” a source said. Hence, Perkasa feels it can play its check and balance role more effectively outside than inside the political arena.
The pile of reports on Najib's desk doesn't make good reading. He must be wondering what else can he do to bring the BN and the country back on track. The options are few. The risks are many. He is walking on a tight rope high above the circus crowd while juggling many things. The BN clowns below egg him on to perform more daring feats while jeering onlookers in the other camp will him to make a fatal mistake. The ground is hard, rocky and sharp: one slip and Najib goes down into oblivion. It is not a nice place to be at the top.