COMMENT | Come April 19, 2018, which is barely two months away, Umno would have used up all the legal wrangling room it has been offered by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) time and again to withhold their internal party elections by 30 months.
Therein the puzzle, albeit one perpetrated by the selectivity and double standard of ROS not least: Why is Umno given the additional privilege, a wrong one at that, to delay its own election since 2013?
Can a political party that hasn't had an election per its own party constitution be considered a
legitimate party or ruling party?
By allowing Malaysia to enter such a dark and vapid time tunnel that is the politics of Umno - and ROS - many strategic implications will cascade.
Nationally, if the DAP and Bersatu have already held their internal party elections and annual general meetings respectively, why is Umno, which hasn't had one since 2013, allowed to delay the election of its office bearers ad nauseam?
The latter means repeatedly in Latin. But it is clear that one does not even have to be a master of Latin to know that Umno is playing a game of bending the rule of law. Such games carry serious effects on the standing of Malaysia as a democracy, indeed, a country based on rule of law.
Little wonder, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International, placed Malaysia at 62nd rank, which in turn, puts us in two-thirds of the 180 countries in the world that went through the CPI survey.
When Dr Mahathir Mohammad (photo) espoused the vision of Vision 2020, the goal was to lift us into the tier of the developed world. There are 27 countries that come under the Organisation of Economic Development (OECD), which constitutes the developed world.
In East Asia, Japan and South Korea are members of OECD, whose headquarters is in Paris, France. The actual and true fulfillment of Vision 2020, in other words, would have put Malaysia in the forefront of the Western, Asian and Islamic world, period.
But, by manipulating with the laws, indeed, by making ROS servile to its partisan need, even the legality of Umno is now in question.
Of course, Umno and BN's legality would now be challenged, and Muhyiddin Yassin has had the foresight to do so.
If this challenge is taken further, the entire edifice of the government would be questioned, especially contracts to be signed between the government and its government-linked companies (GLCs) after April 19, 2018.
Playing with fire
By eroding the rule of law, Umno and ROS are playing with fire, literally. They now put the economy in peril. This is how Umno, under Najib Abdul Razak, has never improved its standing in the CPI between 2009-2018, as DAP leader Lim Kit Siang had correctly pointed out.
It goes without saying that Pakatan Harapan knows the charade and game of Umno and ROS, and if need be, will exercise the right to challenge the legality of Umno and the government in their entirety.
Thus, do not assume that the fate of Harapan rests on the 14th general election only. Not only will Harapan contest the unfair gerrymandering, it will strike at the heart of Umno and BN wholesale.
The motivation is not partisan. But a fair playing field, just as Bersih, C4, Tindak, and a host of
progressive Islamic and other NGOs demand.
Thus, Najib, whom the Federal Court recently affirmed is not a "public official", is now put on notice here. Your powers and shenanigans have found their match abroad, especially the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Indeed, latest revelations from Wall Street Journal on March 1, 2018 showed a slew of emails where Jho Low, ostensibly, under the advice of Najib, beseeched US President Trump to urge the US DOJ to drop the 1MDB case in its entirety.
Well, if Najib is not a public official, for example - this despite Abdul Rahman Dahlan, his Minister in the Prime Minister's Department affirming in a BBC talk show, that the MO1 in the legal documents of 1MDB unveiled by the DOJ is indeed the prime minister - then a serious legal jeopardy has already set
To begin with, the Federal Court, under Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif, who should have recused himself, due to his contract being extended by none other than Najib himself, has denied that the prime minister is accountable as a public official, then the one with executive power is Ali Hamsa, the chief secretary
to the government.
Since when is Malaysia, which is run according to the Whitehall system of government, with checks and balances not least, a federation that can be led by the head honcho of the civil service?
At any rate, if Najib is not a public official, then as the prime minister, his own standing in all
local, national and international contracts and agreements are called into instant question.
If Najib signs any hypothetical international agreement, let's say, to stop the prospective ban of palm oil in biofuel in European Union, for example, the suit would have no legal standing. Thus, how can Najib defend the interest of Malaysia and the Felda settlers?
The answer now is unclear, as Justice Raus's legal judgment in the Federal Court asserts that Najib (photo) is not a public official.
If he does not enjoy the status of a public official, how then can he defend the rights of the public that elected him, let alone other component parties in BN that defends him?
Najib now is in serious legitimacy deficit, not just locally, but internationally too. And, he has dragged the name of Malaysia through the mud.
Again, one should return to the election of Umno. This is because this is the place where the rot began.
Now, first and foremost, when should Umno, especially it's supreme council, including its president, deputy president, three vice-presidents, and other office bearers, legitimise their respective positions through an election?
If they are not elected through legal party election, can they still wield executive, even legislative, powers?
More importantly, what are the views of other component parties of BN, and even PAS which has sought to ally - albeit promiscuously - itself with Umno? Shouldn't they be worried that they are working with an illegal party?
As a pillar of the government, which holds 86 seats in the parliament, Umno is 36 parliamentary seats short of the simple majority of 112 seats to form the government on its own.
Hence, Umno is a component party of a coalition of component parties, albeit, the hegemonic one, since it holds the highest number of parliamentary seats in the august chamber.
If Umno's legality is in disrepute on and after April 19, 2018, the whole legality of BN, indeed, PAS, too, would be held in legal opprobrium, if and when, they try to work together.
If that is the case, then Umno is likely to resort to the same ridiculous self-defence which it has used in 1MDB, including, even the seizure of The Equanimity.
First, Umno is likely to impose the same hegemony it does in Malaysia on ROS: it will ask ROS to allow it to delay its party election again.
ROS, being subservient to it, will concur with the Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor; as indeed they have already done.
After all Section 13A(4) of ROS reads as below:
“(4) The registrar may, on application in writing made to him by a registered society, extend the time provided by him to the society in any order made under subsection (1) or (2) if he is satisfied that the society has given good grounds in its application and it would be just and proper to grant such extension.”
But a promiscuous and overly permissive reading of "good ground", by the ROS here would be flawed, if not remiss.
Umno would be in legal limbo
ROS, too, is leading Malaysia down into a black legal void. After all, good ground for appeal can only mean Malaysia is in economic or political crisis.
But, if Najib is to be believed, the economy and politics are both doing well.
Is ROS asserting that whenever a political party or registered society is embroiled in corruption
scandals, their party bearers can delay their internal election indefinitely? Then, where is the rule of law?
Indeed, Article 10.16 of Umno's constitution allows the supreme council to delay its election by 18 months only. Remember, 18 months only.
Not surprisingly, the first delay was sought by Tengku Adnan (photo) on Oct 19, 2016. The delay then was asked by Tengku Adnan to attenuate the political pressures faced by Najib.
Be that as it may, by right the next party election of Umno must be held by April 19, 2018, a full
18 months later, without which Umno would be in legal limbo. And, such a questionable status would drag the whole component party down.
Will Umno be able to conduct the elections in all their 21,000 branches and 191 divisions and consequently at the national level, before April 19, 2018? Wouldn’t it pose a logistical nightmare to get it done?
Yet, gleefully, if not with sheer self-conceit, ROS and Umno appear to become oblivious to the rule of law, and the gathering legal storm. Why?
If Umno and BN, in complicity with ROS, proceed to ignore all letters and spirit of the law, both ROS and Umno's own constitution, then Umno would have to amend its constitution first, especially Article 10.16.
But then again, if this is what Najib and his colleagues in Umno plan to do, then Umno too would have to write to ROS first to seek an amendment to its party constitution.
No efforts are forthcoming from Umno to date, which is why Harapan and other lawyers inclined to the legal view of Harapan, may hold Umno legally accountable instead.
Whatever it is, without rule of law, our economy and politics would continue to slide. Corruption
used to be a fact of life, today it has become the way of life. It has become a norm rather than an exception.
This will harm severely the people and the nation. As it is, people are already suffering. To stop the insidious corruption that has gone endemic throughout Umno and BN.
Harapan has to come to power to weed out the crooks. The stakes of the country have never been higher.
God save Malaysia.
RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its Policy and Strategy Bureau.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.