Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, led the country’s longstanding ruling coalition in its greatest election battle.
Najib heads the government, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and the most powerful political party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
On May 5, Malaysia voted again for the coalition in the most hotly contested elections since independence from Britain in 1957.
The coalition got well past the threshold of 112 seats for a simple majority in parliament.
His rivals, the three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition, had sought to dislodge Barisan from power.
Najib, 59, called for a spirit of “reconciliation” after elections, which saw record voter turnout and were preceded by a fierce campaign that laid bare deep polarisation in the country.
“For the sake of national interest, I ask all parties, especially the opposition, to accept this result with an open heart,” Najib said. “Overall, the results show a trend of polarisation which worries the government. If it is not addressed, it can create tension or division in the country.”
The opposition, led by ex-UMNO leader Anwar Ibrahim, shocked Barisan in the 2008 elections by winning five of Malaysia’s 13 states and 47 percent of the popular vote for parliamentary seats.
It was Barisan’s worst showing at the polls, and the old-guard coalition was stripped of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. Anwar and Pakatan were on the rise, and Barisan was left looking for answers.
The man left to shoulder the blame for the electoral disgrace was then-prime minister Abdullah Badawi, who promptly stepped down in favor of Najib, then deputy prime minister, in 2009. From that moment, the showdown about to play out between Najib and Anwar was inevitable.
Talk to Al Jazeera – Najib Razak: Malaysia’s election challenge
Even before he was appointed prime minister, Najib, an economist by training, was a well-known name. He was elected to parliament at the age of 23 and took on his first ministerial portfolio at 32. He has since served as minister of defence, education, finance, and even culture, youth and sports.
His early and accomplished political career was hardly a surprise: Najib is the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, Abdul Razak, and nephew of its third premier, Hussein Onn.
His cousin, Hishhammuddin Hussein, is minister of home affairs and his younger brother, Nazir Abdul Razak, runs Malaysia’s second-largest financial institution, Bumiputra-Commerce Holdings Bhd.
Even so, Najib took over the slumping Barisan coalition with increased public and intra-party pressure. The ruling coalition and the UMNO had come to represent the hardline policies of former prime minister Dr Mahatir Mohamed who served from 1981 to 2004, and clashed publicly with Najib’s predecessor.
Najib worked tirelessly to rebrand the Barisan coalition ahead of the May 5 vote. He abolished the unpopular Internal Security Act, launched a raft of big-ticket projects and populist measures, and adopted “1Malaysia” as his campaign slogan.
Najib has devised an ambitious stimulus plan, known as the New Economic Model, to double Malaysia’s per capita income by 2020, and has controversially hinted at plans to shift some of the country’s pro-Malay affirmative action policies to a needs-based approach.
“UMNO is on track to change,” Najib recently told Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme. “We’re more responsive to the needs of people. We’re friendlier and more engaged with the wider population.”
The feel-good approach has paid dividends. A poll conducted in February by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research put Najib’s popularity at 61 percent; much higher than the ruling coalition which had sunk below 50 percent in the same survey.
It still might not be enough to fight off the opposition. Unless Barisan wins back its two-thirds majority and claws back a few states, Najib, like Badawi before him, may be the politician with the most to lose.
Success and scandal
Najib was born in 1953 in Kuala Lipis, in Pahang state, to an accomplished political family. The eldest of ex-prime minister Abudul Razak’s six sons, he inherited the title of nobleman at the Pahang Royal Court.
He has married twice and has five children: two from his current wife, Rosmah Mansor, and three from a previous wife with whom he split in 1987.
During his second stint as defence minister, Najib instituted compulsory military service in December 2003, stating that it would encourage interaction and friendship between youth of different ethnic groups and religions, according to Asia Times Online. As finance chief, Najib campaigned for Malaysia to move beyond its manufacturing and export base and develop its education, research and financial services, as reported by TheMalaysianInsider.com.
According to the prime minister’s office, he was also the architect of Malaysia’s National Sports Policy. At various points in his career, Najib had oversight of the human rights and elections commission and, in all, has chaired at least 28 cabinet committees on a host of issues.
But his sterling political career was not without tarnish and Najib, like his bitter rival Anwar, has been linked to scandals. Najib dominated headlines in 2006 over alleged links to the mysterious murder of Mongolian national Alantuyaa Shaaribuu, who was shot dead before her remains were destroyed by C4 explosives in an abandoned area outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Najib’s associate Abdul Razak and two members of the Malaysian secret police, who were previously the prime minister’s bodyguards, were arrested for the murder. The opposition has pushed for the case to be re-opened to investigate Najib’s alleged involvement, citing purported photos and sworn testimony that claimed the prime minster met Alantuyaa in Paris.
Najib has dismissed the allegations as unfounded, even taking an oath at a mosque that he had never met the woman.
He has also faced allegations of having close links to Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the 23-year-old former aide to Anwar, who filed a police report claiming the opposition leader sodomised him in 2008. Najib has admitted to meeting Saiful, but denied any conspiracy against Anwar who was found not guilty in January 2012, after a nearly two-year trial.
Well-respected, progressive and politically connected, Najib was appointed by his party as prime minister, rather than elected by the people.