The race is on and as the competition heats up, we take a deeper dive into the events that have shaped the political careers of caretaker prime minister Najib Razak and opposition leader - touted to be the man to lead the country should the opposition make a historic win - Anwar Ibrahim.
Najib Abdul Razak
Najib was born in 1953 in Kuala Lipis, Pahang. He is the eldest of the country's second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein's six sons, and the nephew of Hussein Onn, Malaysia’s third Prime Minister. Najib had married Tengku Puteri Zainah Tengku Eskandar or Kui Yie in 1976 but split with her in 1987. He then married Rosmah Mansor, with whom he has two children. He has three children with his first wife.
Najib's political career
• Young politician
In 1976, Najib was selected to run for the seat in parliament left vacant after his father, Tun Razak's death. The national outpouring of grief following Razak's death and the respect for his father helped Najib win the election unopposed as Member of Parliament at only 23. Najib's popularity and strong support also earned him the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister of Pahang position from 1982 to 1986, making him the youngest Menteri Besar in the state to enter office at 29.
• Kampung Baru rally in 1987
In a rally as UMNO Youth leader, Najib had addressed thousands in a gathering in the Kampung Baru stadium to counter demonstrations by Chinese-based parties and education boards over appointments of education officers in Chinese schools. Najib had allegedly led the rally and in his speech, vowed to bathe the keris with Chinese blood. He denied making those remarks when questioned by the Opposition in Parliament. Several BN supporters also pointed out that there were no newspaper reports that quoted Najib making those remarks, particularly the independently-owned Chinese media. Following the rallies, the government launched Operasi Lalang or Weeding Operation which saw the closure of several dailies and weeklies. Over 100 people were arrested in the operation, most of them consisting of politicians and civil rights activists.
• National Service in 2003
When he was Defence Minister, Najib instituted compulsory military service to encourage interaction and friendship between youth of different ethnic groups and religions. The programme, which intended to promote team work, tolerance and community engagement faced many challenges. Safety issues and the professionalism of programme officers were being questioned after a series of accidents and deaths of participants were recorded in the programme's early years.
• Murder of Altantuyaa Shaaribuu in 2006
Najib Razak's alleged links to the murder of Mongolian translator Altantuyaa Shaariibu was through Najib's associate Abdul Razak Baginda. The Malaysian police found bone fragments identified as Altantuyaa's in Shah Alam and investigations revealed she was shot twice before C4 explosives was used on her remains. Altantuyaa was said to have worked as a translator during Malaysian government negotiations over the purchase of submarines in France. Najib has denied all links to Altantuyaa, even taking up an oath in a mosque to swear he has no association to the woman. Abdul Razak has also supported these claims, saying that the PM had never met Altantuyaa.
Abdul Razak, along with two members of the Malaysian Police Special Action Unit (Unit Tindakan Khas) were arrested over Altantuyaa's murder. Abdul Razak was charged with abetment in the murder and the two officers, who were Najib's former bodyguards, were found guilty. Abdul Razak was later acquitted and now lives in exile in the United Kingdom. The Malaysian opposition continues to call for fresh inquiry into the case with reports of photographic evidence showing that Najib and Altantuyaa had met in France. There were allegations of Najib's links to the Mongolian in a sworn statement by private investigator P. Balasubramaniam. Among them included, claims of text messages being exchanged between the Prime Minister and Abdul Razak. But, later Balasubramaniam retracted that statement, which reports reveal could be due to security reasons. He had left for India with his family, and also claiming he was offered a bribe to change his statements and tarnish opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
• New Economic Model in 2010
Najib unveiled an ambitious economic plan to double the per capita income in Malaysia by 2020 through a New Economic Model (NEM). He intended to shift affirmative action from being ethnically-based to being needs-based. Najib hoped that markets would become more competitive and investor friendly, while trying to move away from the practices of race-based New Economic Policy introduced in the 1970s by his late father, which grants special treatment to the Malays while promoting the Malay agenda. Najib's NEM aims to stimulate economic growth, while improving worker productivity. He wanted more private sector involvement in helping to close the gap between the wealthy and poorest communities in Malaysia.
• Government Transformation Programme in 2010
To meet the goals of the NEM, Najib launched his brainchild, the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), to address areas affecting people living in this country. These include reducing crime, fighting corruption, raising living standards for poor households, improving rural basic infrastructure and improving urban public transport. Many initiatives were unveiled, from increasing police patrols to launching the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) to help ease congestion in the Klang Valley.
• 1Malaysia campaign in 2010
One of Najib's attempts in uniting multiracial communities in Malaysia is through a 1Malaysia campaign, which appeared to be national programme to emphasise harmony and efficient governance. He admitted to keeping the concept of 1Malaysia broad to allow communities, businesses and government agencies to exchange feedback with one another. Najib promotes these exchanges on a 1Malaysia online forum, which he regularly updates himself. The 1Malaysia campaign has translated into a tagline for Najib's administration and many businesses, government agencies and communities adopted the 1Malaysia logo into their signages, client charters and used as branding for their products and services.
• Military equipment acquisition
In 2011, the opposition and a human rights organisation, Suaram, had accused Najib of being involved in receiving large commissions for the acquisition of Scorpene submarines, Eurocopter helicopters and Sukhoi fighter jets. The French judiciary is also investigating charges of corruption in the submarine deal.
• Federal Land Development Authority – Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2012
As the son of Felda's founder, Najib decided to restructure the entity to develop Felda Global Ventures Holdings (FGVH), through a public listing of the vehicle and assuring high dividends for over 100,000 Felda settlers. FGVH recorded a historic listing in 2012, making it the second largest IPO in the same year after Facebook. FGVH's IPO raised close to RM10bil. Critics of the exercise, particularly, the National Association of Felda Settler's Children (Anak), claimed the move excluded the interest of Felda settlers and their families and that it was political in nature.
• Malaysia – Singapore relations in 2012
Najib's work in improving links with Singapore helped thawed the icy relations between the two nations, a result of rivalry between former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew. Once joined together as a federation, Malaysia and Singapore's relations progressed as Najib and Lee Hsien Loong agreed to resolve important issues, such as transportation links. Malaysia had agreed to move its railway station in the republic's central business district to a northern site close to a bridge that links the two countries, ending decades' old dispute over land usage. The neighbours also agreed to work together on a series of property projects and mass railway link to Johor.