I salute the ‘fighter’ in Najib

Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | Firstly, let me say that I can foresee a lot of brickbats for writing this article saluting former premier Najib Abdul Razak, possibly the most vilified personality in the country today.

But what do I care? This isn’t a popularity contest – I’m not a politician who worries about winning votes; and I’m not bound by any party gag. I’m just an ordinary citizen, a simpleton from Sarawak who believes in freedom of expression and giving credit where it is due, even to the worst of men.

In case readers intend to critique me for this feel-good piece about Najib or a defence of the former prime minister, please do so in your true identity and not hide behind ‘Anonymous’ or other pseudonyms. I have no desire to waste time responding to those who are only good at taking cowardly pot-shots online. I believe my fellow columnists here share similar sentiments.

Now, why do I wish to compliment the man who has been accused of mercilessly plundering the nation? He deserves what he gets today for all the wrongs he had done while in office. I do not dispute that.

But I would like to look at Najib the man for a moment, and not the former prime minister accused of heading the previous kleptocratic government which brought Malaysia to its knees.

Fighting spirit

I can see the ‘fighter’ in Najib; I salute his indomitable fighting spirit. A lesser man would have ‘surrendered’ a long time ago.

Despite being hauled in numerous times by the MACC and police, being dragged to court and slapped with multiple charges, we still see him smiling and waving to the crowd every time he emerges from the graft-busters’ office in Putrajaya or the court.

Others can construe that as forced smiles from a shameless man with a big ego, but I think Najib deserves some credit here. You and I will never know or able to comprehend what he went through over the past few brutal, gruelling months. If I were him, I’m not even sure I would be able to sleep soundly at night. Would you?

We know only too well of leaders elsewhere who were voted out of office. Usually, they quickly flee the country to live in exile, not wanting to face the music at home or worse, commit suicide.

The incident at the Subang Airport that fateful morning a few days after the May 9 polls was believed to be an attempt by Najib and his family to flee, but that has not been confirmed. It isn’t fair to jump to conclusions without establishing the truth of the matter.

I also salute Najib for carrying out his duties responsibly as the Pekan MP despite his ordeals. Well, he has been in Parliament whenever he isn’t being called in by the MACC or facing charges in court.

He was in the Dewan when Anwar Ibrahim took his oath as the new Port Dickson MP. He was there when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad presented the mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan and even participated in the debate.

I think many in Najib’s shoes would not even bother to turn up for parliamentary sittings, let alone debate in the house. The Pekan MP is now even complaining about talking to an almost empty Dewan too (don’t play truant, Pakatan Harapan, we have enough of that nonsense from BN in the past).

I also think Najib’s poser, “Do ministers consider me or Parliament irrelevant?” in response to a statement by DAP leader Lim Kit Siang was fair and appropriate. It is the duty of all cabinet members with no official engagements and MPs to be present when Parliament is in session.

Stormy interview

Najib also did well to accept the interview on Al Jazeera on Saturday. I could sense he knew it would not be a comfortable evening for him, yet he was brave enough to be grilled. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well, with Najib walking out before it ended.

Let me wear my journalist hat for a moment and review the interview.

I think “101 East” host Mary Ann Jolley lost control of the situation, particularly after Najib sat down again following his first attempt to leave. She failed to calm herself down, which made her guest lose his cool, rightly or wrongly, for the second time.

Sorry to censure a fellow journalist, but I think Jolley went overboard with badgering Najib from the off. She should have started with less sensitive questions to allow her guest to settle in, at least in the first few minutes.

She also kept interrupting Najib which is bad. Viewers are more interested in his explanations rather than the host’s questions, which have all been asked and answered before. There was nothing new about the RM2.6 billion ‘donation’, Altantuya Shaariibuu, the pink diamond, the US Department of Justice, Riza Aziz or Low Taek Jho that we have not heard before.

Another part of the interview which I thought was unnecessary was when Jolley asked about her 2015 deportation. When Najib shot back “Good thing you were deported,” and not tolerating the apparent fabrication, she didn’t allow her guest to finish his piece.

It turned into an argument between host and guest. Their red faces were glaring to viewers. This seemed personal and out of line.

But Jolley did ask Najib one pertinent question – whether he regretted the 1MBD fiasco. Najib’s reply – “I regret it…I wish there was no 1MDB issue whatsoever” was enough for editors to make headlines.

I understand it’s unprofessional to critique a fellow journalist, and I hope Jolley (photo) and Al Jazeera will not take me too seriously but just accept me sharing my opinion for what it’s worth. Consider me a nobody, an irrelevant, almost senile old man from the jungles of Borneo.

Kudos to Najib too for apologising immediately after the interview for losing his cool, and for stating that he would be prepared to appear on future Al Jazeera talk shows. That was indeed gentlemanly of the former prime minister.

Still, Najib must get real, as no one is interested in his legacy, economic policies and achievements anymore, if that was what he expected during his Al Jazeera interview. To many, the damage he inflicted on the nation’s soul is unforgivable.

Against the odds

That said, I have to give it to the man’s fighting spirit. Despite being publicly humiliated and ridiculed, Najib is still issuing challenges to the government and dares to stand up and be counted, despite the overwhelming odds against him.

He still maintains his innocence and is very determined to prove it. He is always protective of his family, his wife and stepson in particular, and ever ready to defend them over their alleged association in the 1MDB scandal.

It seems that Najib possesses that rare prowess of defending the indefensible. Some will surely describe it as the act of a desperado.

Call him what you will – a thief, liar, cheat, plunderer, a man without conscience; all of which could well be true. But after all is said and done, I do have to take my hat off to the fighter extraordinaire.

Still, Najib would do well to bear in mind the words of wisdom from Sun Tzu: “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”

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FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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