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KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 13): The Federal Court's verdict to uphold Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy conviction and his five-year jail sentence is a "major gamble" that could backfire on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, The Edge Review said in its latest edition.

With the opposition leader out of the way, Najib's critics from within his ruling party were more likely to train their guns on him and up the ante in their attacks on the beleaguered leader, the digital weekly said.

Criticism against Najib appears to be "gaining steam", it noted, despite the fact that the prime minister's supporters believe that jailing Anwar would strengthen Najib's position in his party, Umno, by recasting him as a "decisive leader".

In an article "The Najib dilemma", the Review said that prime minister's supporters believed that Anwar's incarceration could lead to the demise of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), in addition to boosting Najib's prestige within Umno.

Those in this camp feel that the PR was already at a weakened state following the open fights between the Islamist PAS and its two partners, PKR and DAP, over issues of race and religion. Anwar's jailing would serve as a trigger to split the opposition pact, they believe.

But The Edge Review said that the PKR de facto leader's jailing could present Najib with "fresh problems" in the form of more virulent attacks against him from critics within Umno.

"Najib, who is struggling with his worst approval rating since coming to power in April 2009, may have unwittingly provided his rivals, led by former premier (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the upper hand in their very public campaign to remove him," the Review said.

Quoting pollster Ibrahim Suffian of Merdeka Centre, the digital magazine said with Anwar in jail, the "spotlight in Umno will now turn on Najib", who is the party president.

Already, Dr Mahathir has renewed his attack on Najib, just two days after the Federal Court's verdict to uphold Anwar's conviction and five-year jail sentence.

Dr Mahathir had said in a public forum in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday in reference to Najib, that “if you don’t perform and people say you’re no good, please resign”.

Also this week, Najib and family have been exposed in the New York Times over their wealth, including the ownership of multi-million dollar homes in the United States.

The Edge Review also quoted a former member of Umno's Supreme Council who said that "Mahathir and his people can now move against Najib".

Although Najib may appear entrenched in Umno given the lack of a mechanism to depose him, the criticism, which has been ongoing for some time, especially over the debt-laden, government-backed strategic development fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), is likely to get worse if the prime minister fails to address economic concerns.

These include the high national debt as well as decreased revenues from oil and gas, of which Malaysia is a net exporter. The criticism has been ongoing, but the true test of Najib's survival might be the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) in April.

If sending Anwar to jail was a gamble that could backfire on Najib, the GST could unleash an unexpected backlash, especially from among the rural poor, the weekly said. – February 13, 2015.

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