If Clinton’s the 'comeback kid', Najib’s the 'cannot get rid'

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COMMENT In December 1998, for the first time in American history, a sitting president, Bill Clinton, was impeached by Congress for the crimes of obstruction of justice and perjury relating to the sexual affair he had with 22-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The world knows very well the tricks Clinton employed to duck and dive the allegations, including, most famously, his questioning of the definition of what “is” is, when he said that he “did not have sexual relations” with the woman in question – earning him the nickname ‘The Wizard of Is’.

In the end, the semen-stained blue dress saved by the curvy brunette, with Clinton’s DNA splashed all over it, put an end to all his shenanigans.

But even "Slick Willie", as he was popularly known at the time, never once went so far as to claim that the reporters and politicians accusing him were terrorists attacking the parliamentary democracy of the country or sabotaging the nation’s banking and financial institutions.

The democratic institutions, including all or any security agencies like FBI, CIA, NSA or any other administrative institutions, were not used to defend the Slick Willie.

Even his own Democratic Party distanced itself from these investigations, citing a personal issue involving the then sitting president of the USA.

Of course, Hillary ( photo ) stood by her man, as Bill is standing for her now in her attempt to be the first female US president.

Fast forward to 2015 and Malaysia. The sitting Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, is not accused of having an illicit sexual affair – at least not by us – but he is under increasing scrutiny to explain the alleged payments of almost a billion US dollars into his personal accounts.

Najib is also getting the heat for the billions of ringgit more of debt racked up by the state investment firm of his design, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The allegations involved allegedly questionable business dealings involving eye-watering sums diverted to offshore vehicles held by other offshore vehicles held by trustees and nominees in schematics so complex as to make even hardened cartel-owners green with envy.

With all these bullets flying Najib’s way, his simple line of defence is that anyone questioning any of this is attacking the democratically-elected government of the nation.

This includes the common man, protesters, lawyers, accountants, elected opposition officials, his own party members, his Umno deputy president (and dismissed deputy prime minister), a party vice-president and state bureaucrats as well.

Najib could have used the vast powers at his disposal to pursue those responsible for wrongdoings, as promised.

Instead, we see inquiries stifled or disrupted by change of personnel. Bureaucrats are shuffled around or sacked and the process is like bombing Malaysia back to the Stone Age.

Rise of dissent

The urgent need of the day is for the rakyat to wake up and fight for no less than the constitutional and parliamentary democracy of the nation.

It is to preserve and repair the country’s institutional framework, the first call for which is to unambiguously reject the arguments being offered by the administration – the people of Malaysia surely know what the meaning of “is” is.

Everyone knows that once the toothpaste is out of the tube, there’s no point trying to put it back in. Everyone, it seems, except the prime minister and his dwindling circle of supporters.

The proverbial toothpaste in this case, includes:

  • The denial of any connection with the intermediary Jho Low;
  • The seemingly contradictory explanations about 1MDB funds;
  • The silence about the source and destination hundreds of millions of US dollars the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) confirmed was in Najib’s bank accounts;
  • The legal cases slapped against critical media and political opponents;
  • The sacking of the former attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail;
  • The transfer of MACC officials to the PM’s Department and then the re-transfer;
  • The elevation of the PAC members to the cabinet, delaying PAC investigations;
  • The purge of dissenting Umno members from the party ranks;
  • The jailing of whistle-blowers under security laws; and
  • The removal of his then Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

A Banana Republic?

Regulatory authorities and enforcement agencies in multiple jurisdictions have begun actions which Malaysian authorities have been unwilling or unable to undertake themselves.

Despite the net being tightened around them, new Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi ( photo ) returned from an official visit to the United States asserting that the FBI probe into 1MDB is merely political fodder.

Zahid also said he had met top officials from the FBI, CIA and even Secretary of State John Kerry, without a single word being mentioned about 1MDB.

He may be right.

Such claims call to mind a famous quote during the 1960s Profumo Scandal when, hearing Lord Astor deny sleeping with her, Mandy Rice-Davis simply said: “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”

The immediate (and likely long-term) repercussions of such action are a series of debilitating setbacks for the economy, the currency, the stock market, foreign investment, investor confidence, and other leading indicators which assign a country its place in world rankings.

In these rankings, Malaysia is fast falling into the category of a banana republic, with comparisons drawn to the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.

Call to action

If the current administration refuses to acknowledge this or act to stop it, then at least other leading stakeholders are making their voices heard, one by one.

Most importantly, in an unprecedented action, the Council of Rulers made it clear that they want the government to complete the investigations related to 1MDB as soon as possible and take “the appropriate stern action” against all those individuals found to be implicated.

Bank Negara Malaysia governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz has also bravely called for the new attorney-general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, to investigate the evidence the central bank has presented and prepare the appropriate charges, mirroring the rulers’ call that the people have a right to know about the findings of the investigations into 1MDB.

The ultimate victim of bad governance and loss of rule of law is the people themselves.

They will have to labour to rebuild the institutional infrastructure and reclaim political stability, and repair the damage inflicted by the alleged actions of its leaders upon their Federal Constitution.

So, it is therefore the responsibility of all Malaysians to limit the impact of this fiasco, which is growing day by day.

It is equally important to exercise caution in the event of a free-for-all as everyone goes in for the kill.

The new leadership will have to show strength and clarity, and explain that this is the time to repair the government, the institutions, the image, the economy, and the currency.

The people will get their chance to express their vote in the general election. The need for justice will not go away.

But first, Najib must reassess his position to stay or leave to save the nation.

Otherwise, just as the former president Clinton has come to be known in American politics as the "Comeback Kid", our prime minister will just as surely secure his reputation as the "Cannot Rid" politician of Malaysia.

Will Umno delegates rise to the clarion call to Save Malaysia and rebuild its democracy or will it be a choreographed applause to the gleeful Najib and his team of obedient apple polishers, who have made it official that cash is king?

Will Umno delegates, for once, elbow out the niceties and patronage obligation to do the right thing and bring in real reforms that will continue to engender and make Umno relevant in the next general election and beyond?

Or are we just asking for too much of the Umno delegates?

RAIS HUSSIN is a doctoral candidate in Business Administration, a serial entrepreneur and political observer who loves his nation more than anything else.

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