Opposition hoping ship scandal will torpedo BN, say analysts

None of six frigates of the Gowind design ordered by the navy have yet to be completed or delivered, a parliamentary committee said. (malaysiandefence.com pic)

PETALING JAYA: The RM9 billion littoral combat ship controversy could scuttle Barisan Nasional at the next general election, as public anger over the 1MDB scandal did in 2018, unless BN manages the issue properly, says an analyst.

Sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi noted that the LCS scandal was being used as a “political weapon” with opposition parties PKR, Amanah and DAP attacking Umno leaders over the issue.

“The opposition needs a strong narrative to paint the other side in a negative light,” he said. “PH and its component parties are united in building a narrative, and they all have their own views on this. If it’s not explained well (by BN), this can be a 1MDB in the making,” said Azman, who is with Universiti Malaya.

Political analyst James Chin of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute said he was sure PH were hoping to capitalise on the LCS controversy

“The opposition is thinking… ‘If we can manage to make the LCS scandal as big as 1MDB, then maybe we can follow the same tactic to get rid of BN’,” he said. “So that’s why everyone is playing up the LCS. It’s still an ongoing battle, so I think it’s too early to say who will gain and who will lose.”

Before the 2018 elections, Pakatan Harapan capitalised on public anger over the 1MDB scandal and the loss of billions in fraudulent investments by the sovereign wealth fund. The scandal led to BN losing power over the federal government for the first time.

In the current LCS controversy, none of the six frigates ordered by the navy have yet to be delivered after the expenditure of RM6 billion.

Three key Umno leaders have been the target of criticism over the project, among them former prime minister Najib Razak who led the government when the defence ministry awarded Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd the contract in 2011.

Umno president and BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the defence minister at the time, was alleged by a parliamentary committee of having ignored protests raised by former navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar, while defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein, another senior Umno member, has faced calles to resign.

Perikatan Nasional has also joined the fray, with PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin questioning if voters could trust Zahid to lead BN at GE15.

Awang Azman said that while BN was working hard on social media to carry out damage control, the controversy would reflect badly on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob if BN failed to regain power or was prevented from obtaining a parliamentary majority.

However, he hailed Ismail’s decision to allow the declassication of a report by a government investigation committee and a forensic audit into the project.

“That way, these reports cannot be manipulated by the opposition,” he noted.

Although the opposition has cast Umno leaders as the villains in the controversy, Awang Azman said PH could have handled the issue better when it was in government (from 2018 to 2020) by forming a royal commission of inquiry or pushing for investigations by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Umno has the bullets, it just has to use them,” he pointed out.

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