Despite being a convicted felon – found guilty of misappropriating RM42m in SRC International by the High Court and losing at the appeals court – ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak continues to strut around like a free man.
The High Court had in December 2021 sentenced Najib to 12 years in prison and a RM210m fine. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision, and the Federal Court will now hear Najib’s final appeal on 15-26 August.
In another ongoing case, Najib has been charged with four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering involving RM2.3bn of 1MDB funds.
One would think that having failed to prove his innocence at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal in the SRC case, the accused might be well advised to just focus on his final appeal and the ongoing 1MDB case – and perhaps lie low for a while.
But no! Not for Najib – lying low is definitely not an option.
Umno-Barisan Nasional’s emphatic victory in the Johor state election in March has been partly attributed to Najib’s campaigning in the southern state. As chairperson of BN, he had also campaigned actively in the Malacca state election, which BN won.
Najib seems to have reinvented himself and has become more and more emboldened in his public activities and appearances. His active publicity and social media team has assigned the moniker “Bossku” (my boss) to him. At many of his carefully staged public appearances, shouts of “Bossku!” and “Malu apa, Bossku!” (What’s there to be ashamed of, Boss) pierce the air.
Najib even ventured into so-called ‘opposition’ territory, Penang, where he gave a keynote address at a “Penang International Business and Investment Summit”.
Many who are fully convinced of Najib’s guilt, greed, corrupt ways and abuse of power may feel like cringing or throwing up at his antics.
The former PM is sometimes depicted as some sort of ‘folk hero’, a champion of Malay rights. Many politicians like him may even play the ‘race and religion’ card unshamedly.
Sadly, this often gains traction. This is part of the socio-political reality we are dealing with in Malaysia today.
Najib is not the only Umno leader facing charges of corruption and money laundering. Other politicians such as Umno president and Bagan Datuk MP Zahid Hamidi, Pontian MP Ahmad Maslan and Putrajaya MP Tengku Adnan Mansor have also been hauled to court to face corruption-related charges. These politicians make up the so-called ‘court cluster’ of Umno.
For the record, Ahmad Maslan and Tengku Adnan have had their cases cleared – another controversial point of contention. To settle his case, Ahmad Maslan, who had been charged with money laundering and giving a false statement, agreed to pay a compound of RM1.1m.
As lay people, we can only ask, why pay a massive compound fine of RM1.1m if one is innocent? Conversely, if one is wrong and needs to pay a fine, why grant the accused an acquittal?
Another controversial Umno politician, Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Rahman, the former Prasarana chairman, was once investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for having used his position to make decisions favourable to a company linked to a family member. He got away with a “no further action” decision.
There is much controversy surrounding Tajuddin who is infamous for some of his antics in Parliament.
Yet, on 17 May news emerged that Tajuddin had been appointed as ambassador to Indonesia. Over 16,000 people have signed an online petition urging the government to reconsider this appointment. Many believe he simply does not have the moral rectitude nor the required dignity to represent Malaysia.
This is an alarming trend. To be fair, the withdrawal of charges by the Attorney General’s Chambers was not limited to the times when BN was in power.
After Pakatan Harapan came to power in 2018, many also questioned the decision by the Attorney General’s Chambers to withdraw two corruption charges (for alleged conversion of state land status and the purchase of a bungalow at below market value) against former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. The deputy public prosecutor had requested for a “discharge not amounting to acquittal”, but the High Court judge granted Lim a full acquittal.
Without doubt the attorney general holds much power and enjoys much discretion. The point is, we may never be privy to all the facts, points of law and legal technicalities that led to the final decision to drop or withdraw charges against any particular individual.
But it is certainly within our right to demand that justice be blind and that no favouritism, bias and special treatment be granted to someone based on their position of influence and power. A clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government is sorely needed.
Since the fall of the PH government after the Sheraton move in 2020, Umno seems to have grown from strength to strength, especially with its convincing wins in the Malacca and Johor state elections.
With the swearing in of Umno’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob as PM replacing Mahiaddin Yasin, the party has become even more brazen and aggressive. Some leaders such as Zahid and Najib are pushing for the coming general election to be held sooner rather than later.
With major parties in the opposition unable to unite, factions within Umno are keen to take advantage of the momentum and seize control of Putrajaya. It is no coincidence that those pushing for an early election are from the court cluster.
One cannot help but see their push for an early election and their hoped for victory as a ‘passport’ to freedom – a ‘stay out of jail’ card of sorts.
Astute political observers have noted that Malaysia is quickly sliding down a slippery slope.
With the recent election of “Bongbong”, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, as president of the Philippines, many are now wondering whether Najib may make a similar comeback as PM.
Many are also troubled by what is going on in Sri Lanka. Now bankrupt, the country faces a severe shortage of essential items like fuel and gas. Ordinary people – especially the poor and downtrodden – are paying the price of unbridled corruption and nepotism that had long plagued the nation.
We simply cannot allow our beloved country to go down this path of destruction. We cannot leave the governing of this country to leaders who place themselves ahead of the people.
At a recent televised debate between Najib and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Najib said the cure for an ailing economy was simply to expand the economic “cake” so that there would be more to distribute to the people.
In a ‘cutting’ retort, Anwar said much would depend on who slices and distributes the cake.
More often than not, the elite and the upper classes consume a much larger chunk, leaving just crumbs for the masses. This ‘trickle down’ theory that Najib is subscribing to has failed to work in Malaysia, where the system is stacked against the lower classes.
During the debate, Najib also claimed his infamous “cash is king” remark simply meant that the ‘rakyat’ (people) are the “kings”. His explanation made no sense, to put it mildly.
Surely, we cannot afford to hand the reins of government back to leaders like Najib Razak and his ilk.
To stop that from happening, we the voters cannot just sit back and lament that we are fed up with the politicking. Worryingly, this sense of resignation and frustration is palpable among many in this country.
This is why Aliran and over 50 other NGOs have launched a People’s Agenda, urging all of us to reclaim the nation.
Our clarion call rings out: we demand that all political leaders must place “people first” and fight for “democracy now”. They must prioritise bread-and-butter issues.
Top of the agenda should be boosting food security, fulfilling basic needs, providing adequate housing and ensuring fair wages. Unsustainable mega-projects should be scrapped, and the climate crisis taken seriously.
Come the general election, we must all use our vote wisely. If the MP in our constituency is re-contesting, review his or her performance to see if it has met the demands in the People’s Agenda. If the candidate is new, get them to commit to the People’s Agenda.
We can’t go wrong with our choice, if the candidate pledges to:
- Uphold the dignity and quality of life of the constituents
- Promote equitable, sustainable development and tackle the climate crisis
- Celebrate diversity and inclusivity
- Uphold democracy and the rule of law
- Fight corruption and cronyism
Granted, our demands are idealistic: out of the 222 MPs who will eventually be voted in, it will be difficult to find many who actually subscribe to the values we are promoting, beyond lip service.
But struggle on, we must. If more and more of the rakyat subscribe to the People’s Agenda – which prioritises justice, freedom and democracy for all – there is still hope for the nation!Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
19 May 2022