By M Santhananaban
Two former prime ministers of Malaysia appear to be ironically in the same boat in a quest to recoup power and relevance.
They should have good reason to feel besieged, betrayed and beleaguered. They are both making rather anxious, ardent and ambitious appeals to be heard.
The two of them had, between them, a combined tenure of over 33 years in the most powerful office of our beloved country. Both were, with the benefit of hindsight, disastrous for the nation.
Najib Razak, the first real princeling of a privileged political culture, was prime minister for nine years and a full month.
About a year after he had lost the prime minister’s position, he was charged in court with corruption, embezzlement and money laundering.
Despite the valiant efforts of his lawyers, the High Court convicted and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment and fined him RM210m.
Having exhausted the appeal process at the Court of Appeal, he now has a last chance to overturn the decision at the Federal Court.
An acquittal cannot be ruled out, but his chances look dim from the perspective of the four judges who had convicted him after allowing him some rather unusual indulgences.
In the divided court of public opinion, a large segment believe that Najib’s conviction should be upheld and that he should be locked away. It will bring some relief to the entire country which desperately needs closure to this matter, which has sapped the energy of the country for over three years.
Najib has to realise that, while the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is entertaining, his conduct in the highest public office in the country was an embarrassment.
The other rather fervent and deeply flawed appeal, not in a court of law, but in the public domain is that of the two-time prime minister, the nonagenarian Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had a total tenure in the highest office of over 24 years.
Mahathir has announced he wants to form an essentially peninsular Malay-Muslim political movement called Gerakan Tanah Air (Homeland Movement).
Almost six decades after the formation of Malaysia, this is obviously an attempt to foist the divisive narrow leadership of a provincial peninsular Malay-Muslim movement on the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak and the minorities domiciled in the peninsula.
This was what Umno had stood for from 1951 to 2018, with limited success. It was premised on the dubious reality that the Malay Muslims were a monolithic community sharing common ideals and harbouring some misgivings about the so-called immigrant communities, the Sabahans and the Sarawakians.
Today’s peninsular Malays are clearly divided, but they are also more sophisticated, urbane and literate. There are over four political parties in the peninsula that have an exclusive Malay membership or an overwhelmingly high proportion of peninsular Malays.
There are also peninsular Malays who belong to multi-racial political parties and yet others who espouse a truly Islamic outlook of inclusiveness, equality of the people and have the highest sense of justice and fair play.
In view of this changed Malay-Muslim environment in the peninsula, Mahathir’s Gerakan Tanah Air initiative is widely perceived to be a divisive and retrograde step that denies and diminishes the spirit of unity, camaraderie and friendship that abides in Malaysia.
The former prime minister casts himself as a dinosaur whilst living in a modern, globalised and united Malaysia.
Understandably, one has to hope and pray that both these appeals by the two former prime ministers will fall flat and fail.
The removal and marginalisation of these two men would enable other leaders, both young and old, to emerge and give the country a respite so that it can recharge its batteries and become a more united, forward-looking, just and responsible nation.
May God help us.
M Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience