The ghost of Altantuya Shaariibuu is being resurrected in this quiet seaside town as it gears up for a by-election, with the opposition aiming to put Deputy Premier Najib Razak on the defensive.
Posters of the dead Mongolian woman were pasted on traffic lights along the road from the airport to ensure that the stream of Umno VIPs arriving yesterday could not miss them.
Datuk Seri Najib, who arrived here yesterday morning, may have also seen them as he travelled that road into town.
The posters have since been taken down by the police.
The Deputy Premier, who is slated to become Malaysia’s prime minister in March, has been dogged by allegations of involvement with Ms Altantuya, 28, whose body was found blown up by explosives.
His close friend, Mr Abdul Razak Baginda, was charged with abetting her murder after their love affair went sour. He was recently acquitted.
Five Parti Keadilan Rakyat leaders were arrested by police for putting up the posters, youth wing chief Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin told The Straits Times.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar yesterday defended the police. ‘If they spread criminal defamation, the police should take action. In a democratic system, we should act with responsibility,’ he said.
The Altantuya debacle continues to haunt Mr Najib despite repeated denials of any involvement with her. Mr Abdul Razak had also said Mr Najib never met Ms Altantuya.
‘They want to discredit him because he’s leading the campaign,’ Mr Najib’s aide said.
The by-election campaign in Kuala Terengganu – called KT by many Malaysians – will kick off today after candidates register for the ballot. Polling is on Jan17.
Umno is fielding former deputy home minister Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh, 46, against Parti Islam SeMalaysia’s (PAS’) Abdul Wahid Endut, 52. Two independent candidates have also expressed interest.
The by-election, which was called after the Umno MP for KT died in November, is seen as a crucial one with high stakes.
It is a test of Mr Najib’s acceptability while the opposition hopes a victory will recharge their campaign to seize power.
Mr Najib is under pressure to defend the seat, which Umno managed to retain with only a slim majority in March last year with the help of Chinese voters who did not like the insularity of PAS in Terengganu.
A study by political analyst Ong Kian Ming showed that about 47per cent of Malays voted for Barisan Nasional (BN) in KT in March, while 64per cent of non-Malays voted BN.
If the seat is lost, Mr Najib will be blamed for being unable to fend off the opposition – the same accusation that resulted in Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi opting for early retirement.
‘Should BN lose, it will have a huge impact on Mr Najib,’ said political analyst Agus Yusoff.
Mr Najib said in an interview with Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia newspaper: ‘The KT by-election is of great significance and importance to Umno and BN, and not just for Terengganu but for the nation.’
Former premier Mahathir Mohamad, however, deflected attention away from Mr Najib. He said yesterday that some people were trying to project it as a test for Mr Najib, but in reality, Mr Wan Farid was a ‘proxy’ of others.
Mr Wan Farid is known as an ally of Datuk Seri Abdullah and his unpopular son-in-law, Mr Khairy Jamaluddin.
Analysts do not believe that a loss will jeopardise Mr Najib’s chances of becoming prime minister, unless Umno turns against him.
Kuala Terenganu by-election critical for Najib’s survival