The Observer view on corruption in Malaysia


February 1, 2016

There is, rightly, widespread concern over Najib and a democratic deficit

Najib says he has been vindicated and Malaysia must move on. This is fantasy. The scandal will live on in the minds of voters who have more reason than ever to distrust those who presume to lead them on the basis of privilege, wealth and inequality. It lives on in the minds of the FBI and investigators in Switzerland and Hong Kong still probing 1MDB. And it shines a spotlight on Malaysia’s worsening democratic deficit, whether defined in terms of shady campaign finances, electoral manipulation and foreign interference, human rights abuses, weak and unreliable governance – or downright venality.–The Observer

The most despised Malaysian Leader: Najib Razak can no longer depend on Barack Obama in 2017

Dato’ Seri Mohamed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak was born to rule. Son of Malaysia’s second post-independence prime minister and nephew of its third, he entered parliament at the age of 23, inheriting his father’s seat and was handed several senior portfolios before being appointed Prime Minister himself in 2009.

Najib heads the powerful United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the pre-eminent political force. His national and personal dominance symbolises the bumiputera (ethnic Malay) ascendancy in a country with large, constitutionally disadvantaged ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.

But as the intense firestorm sparked by last week’s arbitrary dismissal of potentially career-ending corruption allegations against him suggests, Najib is also seen by growing numbers of fellow citizens as unfit to rule the country whose leadership he inherited as if by right. His time in government, especially since the 2013 general election, has brought an expansion of repressive laws, multiplying human rights abuses and curbs on media freedoms more reminiscent of Russia than of a supposedly functional, pro-western democracy closely allied to Britain and the US.

Claire Brown and The Sarawak Report will be relentless

Human Rights Watch summed up Malaysia’s crisis of governance in its 2016 World Report and country-file: “The ruling UMNO-led coalition has remained in power since 1957 through electoral manipulation, censorship, intimidation and use of criminal statutes to punish political opponents. After losing the popular vote in the 2013 elections – but maintaining a legislative majority through gerrymandering – the government renewed its crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and passed new laws permitting preventive detention without charge… Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim remains imprisoned on trumped-up sodomy charges after a politically motivated, unjust trial.”

The latest furore besmirching Najib’s shaky reputation concerns a 2013 payment of $681m into his personal bank account, a transfer that only came to light thanks to a Wall Street Journal report last July. After months of closed-door investigations and Najib’s repeated denials of wrongdoing, Mohamed Apandi Ali, Malaysia’s attorney general, declared last week that the money was a private gift from the Saudi royal family and there was no evidence of improper or corrupt activity. Nor was there any connection with graft allegations swirling around the debt-laden state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which Najib oversaw, he said.

This has been met with widespread scepticism. Why was the gift made to Najib and what was it for? Why was most of the money apparently later returned to the Saudis, and what happened to the $61m that was not? Why was the transfer routed circuitously through the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong? And why, particularly if, as Najib claims, the money was a political donation to boost UMNO election campaign funds, was it deposited in his personal bank accounts?

Those taken by surprise by Apandi’s act of absolution include the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which investigated the affair. An anonymous source there subsequently told the Reuters news agency that the commission recommended last month that Najib be charged with criminal misappropriation. Apandi rejected the advice. The MACC is now seeking a review of the attorney general’s decision, while those in Najib’s camp want an inquiry into the leak.

John Berthelsen (right) Asia Sentinel will also be leading the charge

Saudis also found the decision surprising. The Royal Family would “never” place political funds in a private individual’s account, officials told the Malaysia Chronicle. This may or may not be true. A “well-placed Saudi source” told the BBC’s Frank Gardner that the money was paid direct to Najib, on the orders of the late King Abdullah, to help him defeat Islamist hardliners in the 2013 election.

Najib says he has been vindicated and Malaysia must move on. This is fantasy. The scandal will live on in the minds of voters who have more reason than ever to distrust those who presume to lead them on the basis of privilege, wealth and inequality. It lives on in the minds of the FBI and investigators in Switzerland and Hong Kong still probing 1MDB. And it shines a spotlight on Malaysia’s worsening democratic deficit, whether defined in terms of shady campaign finances, electoral manipulation and foreign interference, human rights abuses, weak and unreliable governance – or downright venality.

 

9 thoughts on “The Observer view on corruption in Malaysia

  1. The Observer in The Guardian says “Najib says he has been vindicated and Malaysia must move on. This is fantasy.” I agree.

    Malaysians are waiting to throw him and his UMNO kleptocrats out of power. The pressure will be relentless. We can no longer allow anyone to do things with impunity. Make Rule of Law matter, if we want a better Malaysia.–Din Merican

  2. I do not like the term “democratic deficit”. What is happening is the destruction of the very nature of a nation – the public and social capital is being destroyed to the very point of the very definition of Malaysia is being destroyed.. “Democratic deficit” suggest the power of people to decide is being destroyed but that isn’t just it – systems, institutions, social fabric is all being destroyed.. Its a Ponzi scheme, unsustainable..

  3. Good to see the Observer write on this scandal. But other international news outlets must also do the same until Najib and UMNO is made infamous the world over to the extend he will not be welcomed at any international forum. Najib must be isolated and all assets of his family and friends and cronies be highlighted and made public knowledge. It is going to be a long and difficult job to nail this PM especially since we have a very weakened opposition. And you can count on Najib and the government to use the fear of home terrorism being exported overseas unless there is a strong anti terrorism UMNO government to hold that in check. It was staggering to learn from the DPM Zahid in Sarawak that there were 230,000 Rela members in Sarawak to keep the state safe. Safe from what in this peace loving state? I shudder to think just how many hundreds of thousands of Rela members there are in Malaysia to rally support for UMNO and to ensure that party remains in power.

  4. /// The Observer in The Guardian says “Najib says he has been vindicated and Malaysia must move on. ///

    Sorry, I think there is a typo error there – should be vindictive instead of vindicated.

  5. Say & do what you like, it does not matter to Najib who will remain as the Malaysian PM till the next GE14 at the least. My friends & relatives and I have decided what political party NOT to vote for…..

  6. We now have a pariah nation, with a pariah PM, pariah AG, pariah IGP and pariah institutions. The circle is complete.
    This is what happens when one race occupy all strategic positions at all levels of the administration. All picked by skin colour and blind loyalty to the PM instead of merit and brain power.
    All investors will shun this country.
    It will take more than a generation to make amends.

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