A day after declaring at a rally in Sarawak that he has “warrior spirit”, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s no-show at a forum yesterday where his supporter-turned-critic Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was present will undermine his credibility and damage his reputation, analysts said.
Despite security concerns, they said the prime minister should have proved his warrior mettle by engaging his critics and answering questions on current issues, especially on matters surrounding debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Describing Najib’s decision not to attend the dialogue as an “embarrassment”, analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan said it was bound to damage the prime minister’s reputation both locally and abroad.
“People will see he has something to hide… the damage is done. His reputation is beyond saving now.
“Of course, I expect him to stay in power but his days are really numbered. This is really not about facts, it doesn’t matter what he says any more. Even if he tells the truth, in the end, it is all about perception,” said the head of think-tank Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).
At the same time, Wan Saiful said Dr Mahathir should have stayed away, to maintain his elder statesman stature.
Najib was scheduled to attend the highly anticipated Nothing to Hide forum organised by non-governmental organisation SukaGuam yesterday but backed out on the advice of Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar who ordered the forum be cancelled on the grounds of “public order and national harmony”.
The event was postponed and Dr Mahathir instead took to the stage before police stopped him from addressing more than 1,000 people at the venue.
Wan Saiful said Najib should have turned up at the forum, faced Dr Mahathir and presented his case civilly.
“He could have won the debate, stole the thunder from Dr Mahathir if he had provided the answers to all our questions on 1MDB,” he added.
This opinion was echoed by University of Tasmania Asia Institute director Dr James Chin, who agreed that the fiasco was a public relations disaster.
“It is cowardly. It shows there are things to hide about 1MDB.
“He did not show up because he does not want to face Dr Mahathir, he cannot answer the questions posed.”
While acknowledging that the no-show created the impression that Najib was running from a fight, analyst Ibrahim Suffian said the current imbroglio between the prime minister and Dr Mahathir was likely to be a protracted fight.
As such, Najib needs to ensure he can live to fight another day.
“I’m a bit sympathetic towards the prime minister, it’s not that he is not willing to fight, but he will be trying to answer questions from a very sceptical public.
“There should be opportunities for him to state his case rather than have it turn into a Jerry Springer show where the protagonist and antagonist are brought to meet face-to-face,” he said, referring to the American syndicated tabloid talk show which is known for its controversies and shock factor.
The Merdeka Center director said the organiser did not comprehend the implications of having two major personalities in one place to discuss an issue that was bigger than the both of them.
“This issue is serious and is bigger than the dynamics between the prime minister and Dr Mahathir and the forum would have distracted attention from the issue and instead, highlighted the personal drama between the two.
“To me, that is a loss to the public,” he said, adding that Najib should make another attempt to engage the people but the event had to be better organised.
Dr Oh Ei Sun said while a face-off between Najib and Dr Mahathir was becoming increasingly inevitable, it should be held in a more decorous manner such as a televised discussion.
“If I were him (Najib), I would have said that this sort of rather cacophonous event is not an appropriate forum to clear things up.
“Instead, inviting Dr Mahathir to a televised discussion can forestall the PR problem,” said the senior fellow with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. –TMI