LETTER | What’s in a conviction of a former PM?

Seah Eu Hen


LETTER | July 28  is a truly special day for Malaysia.

On this date in 2020, we saw the ultimate culmination of the lengthy and tiresome 1MDB scandal to a conclusion of its own when Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali found Najib Abdul Razak, former prime minister guilty of all seven charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT), abuse of power and money laundering. His lordship also spared no mercy in sentencing Najib to a 12-year jail term and RM210 million fine equivalent to five times the RM42 million he had taken.

Looking back to 2015 on that very same date, Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked as the deputy prime minister for speaking out on the scandal by Najib, the prime minister back then. Thus, putting him in infamous company with the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim as the second deputy to the premier to be sacked in the history of Malaysia.

In just five years and one general election later, the two men went on different trajectories in their lives where one suffered from a humiliating fall from grace as the most powerful man in Malaysia and became the laughing stock of the country while the other ascended to the pinnacle of Malaysian politics through his own scheme of things. For once, we saw that nobody, even if you are from a political aristocracy, is above the law; we also saw that if you are a nobody, you have an opportunity to enter the rarefied air of high politics.

More so, the country has undergone greater polarisation between race and religion than any given moment of her 63 years of history, as the Malay nationalists rallied together under one banner of Perikatan Nasional (PN) after losing in GE14. This wasn’t solidarity amongst most of the Malay populace, but rather the consequences of indoctrination and siege mentality oft used in the Malay nationalists’ playbook.

While Pakatan Harapan might be vindicated through this verdict to its supporters and detractors alike since the verdict was given under the watchful eyes of the newly minted PN government, the last laugh will not be theirs.

Recall earlier when Lim Guan Eng was acquitted from his bungalow trial by an unpopular decision by the then attorney-general Tommy Thomas to withdraw the case that caused an uproar among the Malay nationalists as flouting the rule of law. In hindsight, this was a huge political misstep on the part of Harapan’s strategy as they had lost the moral high ground for not going through with the trial.

And new investigations have been opened by the MACC to investigate the involvement of Lim Guan Eng’s corruption in the Penang underwater tunnel case. The Malay nationalists will have reinvigorated their pursuit of vengeance for the downfall of their own and if proven to suffice for a case, trust that Harapan’s dissolution will come sooner than one thinks, and it won’t be pretty when it happens.

Underlining this, Muhyiddin Yassin has once again proven to be the master strategist that stands in stark contrast with Dr Mahathir Mohamad, where the former being subtle and letting matters unfold on their own while the latter was known for his heavy-handed tactics and strongman stance.

With the conviction of Najib under his administration and performing an adequate job in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic with generous aid packages to the people, Muhyiddin's approval and popularity among the people have never been higher. At the very least, those from the Umno leadership such as Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Tengku Adnan Mansor who are currently under trial or investigation will be cautious in their actions to prevent a similar end for themselves as the sword of Damocles hangs close above them.

By letting matters take their own course, Muhyiddin has distanced himself further away from the corrupt image that had tainted his former party Umno and firmly established himself as the moderate and gentle father figure image that he has worked hard to cultivate. It will be difficult to imagine that attempts to oust him from within PN will take place despite the rumour mill on overdrive. However, there have been talks to bring Muhyiddin back into the fold of Umno to maintain PN’s grip on power.

Be that as it may, Malaysia has a long way to go before we become a sophisticated democracy where the electorate chooses the best people to lead the country. The issues of corruption and power struggles are part and parcel of a young democracy’s teething pains, after all, compared to the rest of the world, Malaysia has only existed for 63 years. To undo the structural problems would take more than snap polls to resolve and the people must not only vote wisely but be actively engaged in the democratic process as in all democracies.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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