LETTER | Anti-corruption tainted by political calculations

Ronald Benjamin


LETTER | In any society that values integrity, cases of corruption will always be seen as abnormalities in the political sphere. There will then be a strong national outcry to punish political leaders who are corrupted and who were seen to have violated national integrity.

We saw such an outcry in South Korea in 2016-2017 against the corruption scandals involving then-president Park Geun-hye, which clearly revealed a sense of moral conscience among the population.

While Malaysians had an opportunity to dispose of an Umno kleptocratic leader in the 14th general election, to be replaced with Pakatan Harapan, the voting results revealed that the majority of the Malay community was still behind Umno and PAS.

Citing figures from research firm Merdeka Center, only 25 to 30 percent of Malays voted for Harapan, while 35 to 40 percent of Malays voted for the Umno-led BN. Another 30 to 33 percent voted for PAS, a party that never stood up against the 1MDB scandal. About 95 percent of Chinese voters voted for Harapan.

These statistics reveal there is an ethnic political calculation in voting patterns even though corruption scandals took a center stage in the elections. It reveals that even though a leader is corrupted, they are still acceptable as long as he or she champions race and religion. It also depends on who is in power and past relationships.

For example, the Harapan government did not act against abuse of power and corruption allegations against a former Sarawak leader due to previous close political relationships with the Harapan prime minister.

Even though the Harapan government was able to press charges against former premier Najib Abdul Razak and give new life to anti-corruption efforts in the country to a certain extent, ethnic feelings that the Harapan government was not Malay enough, and defeats in five by-elections created a context for a political coup where leaders who were silent about grand corruption, whether from PAS or Umno, came back to power - and they returned with vengeance.

The latest corruption charges against DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng could be seen in this context. He valiantly exposed the silent conspiracies of Umno and MCA politicians on the 1MDB scandal in Parliament. He had to pay a price.

The price came when the Perikatan Nasional government came to power and he became the target of a witch hunt and is currently being charged. All this while, ironically, the latest recording of a prominent political leader who was suggesting enticing MPs with positions to make up a coalition government has seen no action to date.

So where are our anti-corruption efforts really heading to? Could they be detached from political calculations and take on a unified multi-ethnic outrage as was seen in other countries? We are still very far behind.

Anti-corruption action in Malaysia is based on who is in power, ethnic sentiments, political relationships, and vengeful politics. We are still far away from other nations that adhere to the principles of integrity that is beyond political calculations of race and religion.

RONALD BENJAMIN is secretary for the Association for Community and Dialogue.

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

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