Malaysia: An Agenda for Law Reform after GE-14

May 18, 2018

Malaysia: An Agenda for Law Reform after GE-14

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Palace of Justice, Istana Kehakiman II | by Firdaus Mahadi Putrajaya, Malaysia

When Malaysia’s unexpected new Pakatan Harapan government seeks advice about law reform, it will surely consult the many capable Malaysians with expertise in this area: current and former judges; members of the Bar; legal academics, and scholars of the Malaysian constitution and its history; the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM); and the many civil society groups and social movements that now share an accumulated wealth of experience and wisdom.

Malaysians certainly do not need well-meaning foreigners to tell them what is wrong with their legal system, or how to fix it. That is why these suggestions are addressed to inform an Australian and international audience interested in these matters.

Making it safe to offer advice

As a preliminary measure, in order to ensure that experts and the public can openly discuss law reform proposals without fear of reprisal, the government will need to announce a firm commitment to repeal the Sedition Act, and then follow through once Parliament is summoned. Sedition law has no place in a properly functioning democracy, and for too long Malaysians who disagree with the government, state agencies, or political pressure groups have been the subject of vexatious police reports, investigations and prosecutions.

Pending the repeal, it would be improper to commence new investigations and prosecutions, or to continue any currently in the system. The same applies to other laws that intimidate Malaysians from speaking freely on matters of public importance.

Making law reform processes expert and independent

At present there is no independent and expert statutory body that can investigate whether current laws should be repealed or amended, and make recommendations based on those findings.

That work has instead been done by civil society organisations such as Bersih (the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections), JAG (The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality), HAKAM and the Malaysian Bar. In the past, SUHAKAM, which has a mandate to advise the government on legal changes necessary to make Malaysia compliant with its human rights obligations, has also made many recommendations but has usually been ignored by the government of the day.

Establishing an independent law reform commission that could investigate the need for legal change, invite public submissions (including from civil society groups like those just mentioned), circulate discussion papers and draft reports for public comment and then make an informed recommendation to government, could only assist the systematic and thorough renovation of Malaysia’s legal system.

Importantly, such a body could measure how far existing laws comply with the constitution, and make recommendations accordingly. It should examine the constitution as well. Crucially, it could investigate and facilitate informed public debate about the advisability of retaining the constitutional provisions that allow government to proclaim a State of Emergency (article 150) or legislate to combat subversion (article 149). Much mischief has been done under cover of these two provisions—laws permitting detention without trial, for example—and it is surely time for a mature discussion about their continued existence.

Furthermore, some of the most divisive issues in Malaysian public life have involved interpretation of the meaning of constitutional rights and freedoms, and the intersection of civil and Syariah law. Allowing these debates to be ventilated in a civil and reasoned manner through a Law Reform Commission could be an important step towards solutions.

The way that Parliament makes law is also crying out for reform. Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation has been inadequate. The opposition parties usually do not see a bill until it is tabled, which hobbles their ability to make meaningful proposals for amendment. Now the boot will be on the other foot and the Pakatan Harapan government will have the advantage over what is left of the BN coalition in the Dewan Rakyat.

If it is committed to meaningful reform, the entire process of introducing and debating bills will be revised. In Westminster-style legislatures the elaborate system of standing and special select parliamentary committees can, with the aid of expert testimony and public submissions, subject proposed legislation to thorough investigation and analysis. This process has long broken down in Malaysia, but it could be restored.

Making law publicly accessible

An essential element of the Rule of Law is that law is public. People and entities subject to the law should be able to find it and read it, even if they require assistance to interpret and apply it.

At present, Malaysian laws are not all freely available. True, the Federal Constitution and many principal statutes can be accessed without charge on the Laws of Malaysia pages of the Attorney General’s Chambers’ website, but there is room for improvement. The site is not up to date and only the most recent version of an Act can be accessed. This means it is impossible to tell whether, and if so, how, the Act has been amended because amendments are not noted, and historic versions of the law are not kept on the site for cross reference.

Being able to keep track of amendments can be important for a whole range of reasons, including working out the best interpretation of the current law by comparison with the old version. The PDF version of the Federal Constitution does contain some notes and references to amendments, but non-lawyers will have difficulty working out what these mean and how to access the amending laws and previous versions of the constitution (there are many, because the constitution has been amended frequently). The e-Federal Gazette (on a different section of the AG’s Chambers’ website) carries more current information, but it is difficult to use.

Subordinate legislation (also known as subsidiary or delegated legislation) includes the rules, regulations, notices and so forth made by the government agencies by under delegation from an Act of Parliament. These sorts of legal instruments are difficult to find on the AG’s website too—perhaps intentionally.

Lawyers, government departments and law schools that subscribe to legal databases can access more current versions of Malaysian statutes, see how amendments have been made, search for rules and regulations made by authority of the statute (although database coverage is patchy here), and follow the hyperlinks to legal cases decided under those laws. But the cost of these services makes the law beyond the reach of the public.

The new government could cooperate with the Free Access to Law Movement and the ASEAN Legal Information Portal to make all current and historic law—statutes, case law and subordinate instruments—easily accessible to the Malaysian public.

Depoliticising investigations and prosecutions

It is beyond doubt that Malaysians have lost faith in the impartiality and professionalism of public bodies responsible for investigation and prosecution of criminal misconduct—such as the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission—and the regulation of the media and of elections—the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the Election Commission, respectively. The impartiality and judgment of the police has been questioned.

When the courts hand down irrational or poorly reasoned judgments at the end of a tainted investigation and prosecution, then they, too, lose credibility. Internationally, the best-known instances are perhaps the repeated criminal prosecutions of Anwar Ibrahim for corruption and sodomy, and, alternatively, the failure of Malaysian authorities to properly investigate former prime minister Najib Razak (and those associated with him) over the millions missing from the sovereign wealth fund (the “1MDB scandal”). But there are many more instances.

The story of Malaysia through its constitution

Malaysia’s Federal Constitution no longer embodies the spirit and intentions of the country’s founders. 22 August, 2017

There have been too many police reports of sedition that should never have been entertained, lodged by attention-seeking right-wing ratbags out to harass people whose views they cannot tolerate; too many times when the Public Prosecutor (the alter-ego of the Attorney-General) has appealed an acquittal on specious grounds, or sought an increased penalty, because the defendant is a critic of the government. And the blatant misconduct of the Election Commission is too recent to need describing here.

In the Westminster system of government, it is difficult to avoid the political nature of the Attorney General’s office. Requiring the A-G to be a Member of Parliament—as Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto promises—does not solve that problem. But separating out the function of the AG from the Public Prosecutor is necessary to remove the appearance of political bias in prosecutions, and that too is in the manifesto (Promise 15). Similarly, more thought should be given to ensuring the independence of the Solicitor General, whose office is currently enmeshed with prosecutorial functions too.

In civil litigation, the Attorney-General—and the Solicitor General—could consider how to teach the government to act as a “model litigant”. Essentially, this means that when the government or a state agency sues or is sued by a citizen or entity, the state does not act oppressively by relying on technical defences, taking advantage of the comparative lack of resources between the parties, denying and contesting issues of fact that it knows to be true, denying legitimate claims or prolonging litigation. (Some Australian guidelines are here and here). If state governments adopted this practice, then it would apply to the way the various State Islamic Departments conducted litigation too.

Moving forward…?

Perhaps proposals like these are already being considered by the newly constituted Committee on Institutional Reform, established by the also newly convened Council of Elders. Given the expertise and deep experience of the Committee members, they will doubtless offer wise and pertinent counsel.

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What is open to doubt, however, is the willingness of the new government to heed the voice of law reform, given that after just a few days there is already public disagreement between Prime Minister Mahathir and two key government MPs (Nurul Izzah of PKR and Lim Guan Eng of the DAP) over repeal of the draconian Anti-Fake News Act, even though abolishing it was one of Pakatan Harapan’s campaign undertakings. Predictably, Mahathir is not so sure this is a good idea any more. But whatever he thinks, it seems clear the Malaysian electorate plainly expects the new government to carry out fundamental reforms. It would be tragic to see those hopes dashed by a government that calls itself the Alliance of Hope.


  • Associate Professor Amanda Whiting is Associate Director (Malaysia) at the Asian Law Centre, University of Melbourne. Her research is principally in the area of Malaysian legal and political history; human rights institutions and practices in the Asia-Pacific region; and the intersection of gender, society, religion and the law, with particular reference to Malaysia.

    She is the co-editor (with Carolyn Evans) of “Mixed Blessings: Laws, Religions and Women’s Rights in the Asia Pacific Region” (Martunus Nijhoff, 2006); and (with Andrew Kenyon and Tim Marjoribanks) of “Democracy, Media and Law in Malaysia and Singapore: A Space for Speech” (Routledge, 2014). She is currently writing a history of the Malaysian Bar.


NY Times: A Stunning, Sudden Fall for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’

May 17, 2018

A Stunning, Sudden Fall for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’

Just a few months ago, the political machine led by Najib Razak, the gilded Prime Minister of Malaysia, appeared so indestructible that a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal seemed unlikely to derail it. The end came so quickly, so completely, that even his opponents were shocked.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Najib, 64, had unfettered control of his nation’s courts and coffers. His party had thrived by unfailingly delivering huge cash handouts at election time. The media was at his disposal; journalists he didn’t like, he shut down. Political foes were shoved into prison.

The pampered and spoilt son of a Prime Minister (Abdul Razak) and nephew of another (Hussein Onn), Mr. Najib enjoyed the friendship of President Trump, who after playing golf with him in 2014 gave him a photo inscribed, “To my favorite Prime Minister.” Last year, Mr. Trump hosted Mr. Najib at the White House, even as the United States Justice Department accused him of taking Malaysian state money.

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President Donald Trump and Disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at White House in 2017


But his authority suddenly evaporated in the early hours on May 9, after Malaysia’s national elections delivered a commanding majority to the opposition, now led by the political titan who had once lifted Mr. Najib to power: the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad.

The opposition was fractious, and remains so, but it was galvanized by a single purpose: to deliver the ouster of Mr. Najib to an electorate furious at his excesses and emboldened by social media even as news outlets were being muzzled.

Now, Mr. Najib is suddenly vulnerable to criminal charges at home, as well as a reinvigorated effort by the Justice Department as it pursues billions of dollars missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the country’s state investment fund supervised by Mr. Najib for years.

The details released from that investigation in the past three years painted a lurid picture of a Malaysian leader and his family members and friends living high on diverted public money.

Prosecutors say that hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund appeared in Mr. Najib’s personal account and was spent on luxury items, including a 22-carat pink diamond necklace, worth $27.3 million, for his wife. In all some $7.5 billion was stolen from the fund, prosecutors say, and spent on paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Warhol and others worth over $200 million; on luxury real estate in the United States; and even on a megayacht for a family friend, Jho Low, who reveled in his Hollywood connections.

Those accusations, and others, became grist for social media outrage in Malaysia, frequently on private WhatsApp groups, but it seemed Mr. Najib still underestimated how much he was losing: a public that still valued some semblance of moderation, his once unbreakable Malay power base, even family members.

Mr. Najib’s stepdaughter, Azrene Ahmad, took to Instagram on Friday with an emotional condemnation of him and her mother, Rosmah Mansor, who had become widely known here for piling up designer labels, garlands of jewelry and a multi-million-dollar handbag collection that more than rivaled the shoe fetish of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines.

“Today marks the end of a day of tyranny that many have prayed for,” Ms. Azrene wrote, describing how she had “witnessed many trespasses, deals and handshakes these two made for the benefit of power and to fuel their appetite for greed.”

“The numerous offshore accounts opened to launder money out of the country for their personal spending,” she continued, cataloging her accusations against them. “The steel safes full of jewels, precious stones and cash amassed. Being made a cash mule.”

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.CreditUlet Ifansasti/Getty Images


Mr. Najib’s brother, Nazir Razak, joined in, implicitly casting his brother’s ouster as a chance for progress. “Malaysia needs major recalibration, but all attempts under the old order failed,” he wrote on social media. “Now you can!”


Even the state-linked news media, which had spent years writing slavish articles describing Mr. Najib’s wisdom and Ms. Rosmah’s charitable ventures, dropped the multiple honorifics that once preceded his name.

By Saturday, a travel blacklist foiled Mr. Najib’s attempt to leave for Indonesia with his wife.

Mr. Mahathir, who was sworn in as Prime Minister on Thursday, has called Mr. Najib a thief and said he must face the consequences of his actions. “High or low, all are subject to the rule of law,” Mr. Mahathir said Sunday at a news conference.

“This totally changes everything,” said Ren McEachern, a former supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who specialized in international corruption. “Now that he’s out of office, there could be an appetite for criminal charges.”

Further, Mr. Najib’s removal from office is bringing new vigor to efforts by the Justice Department to pursue him, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation but who is not authorized to speak publicly. The department declined to comment on the case for this article.

After his defeat, Mr. Najib posted a Twitter message that was at least partly contrite. “I apologize for any shortcomings and mistakes,” he wrote, even as he maintained that “the best interests of Malaysia and its people will always be my first priority.”

But the saga of Najib Razak is one of astonishing insatiability and unaccountability. And it is an account of a political party — the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which Mr. Najib led — that teethed on graft and patronage and collapsed under the weight of its own immoderation.

“For a long time, elites across the region have enjoyed a culture of impunity,” said Donald Greenlees, an authority on Southeast Asia at Australian National University. “There is no doubt that the decades of mostly one-party rule, the capture of state institutions, particularly the Judiciary, and the taming of the media led Najib to believe he was untouchable.”

Mr. Najib’s downfall was a vanishingly rare event in a region where democracy has retreated in recent years. In Malaysia, as in other places across Southeast Asia, elections had been deployed only to legitimize those in power. Yet without a single shot fired or a threat of a coup uttered, Mr. Najib was toppled.

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Ms. Azrene Soraya Ahmad–Najib Razak’s Stepdaughter

“The day I left home I left you a warning,” Ms. Azrene, his stepdaughter, wrote on Instagram. “There will come a reckoning when the people will punish you for your trespasses on them. There will come a day when God will punish you for your trespasses, the very people you swore to protect.”


Malaysian Police Officers seizing equipment from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) office in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Billions of dollars disappeared from the state fund.

The Flawed Heir

Mr. Najib’s father, Abdul Razak, who also served as Prime Minister of Malaysia. Mr. Razak died in 1976. CreditRolls Press, via Getty Images

Mr. Najib’s pedigree was impeccable, and from an early age he seemed destined to take the helm at the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which counts the betterment of the country’s ethnic Malay majority as its founding mission.

Educated at elite British schools, he acquired a chic English accent and a fondness for fine tailoring. Unlike his onetime mentor, Mr. Mahathir, he did not have an instant rapport with the rural Malay Muslim base, and early in his political career he struggled to speak Malay.

Still, the legacies of Mr. Najib’s father, who was the Second Prime Minister of Malaysia, and his uncle, who was the country’s third, helped make up for his lack of grassroots appeal. In interviews, Mr. Najib was smooth, gracious and somewhat distant.

“Najib grew up thinking that leading the country was his birthright,” said Rafizi Ramli, a top strategist for the opposition that ousted Mr. Najib and the National Front coalition. “He doesn’t realize that you have to earn the people’s trust and maintain the people’s trust. He is completely removed from Malaysia, the real Malaysia.”

But his reputation was tarnished years before he became PrimeMminister in 2009.

In 2006, when Mr. Najib was Deputy Prime Minister, the Mongolian mistress of one of his advisers, Abdul Razak Baginda, was killed, blown up by military-grade explosives (C-4). Two of Mr. Najib’s bodyguards were eventually convicted in her murder.

French investigators are still examining whether Mr. Najib, during his time as Defense Minister, might have personally profited from around $130 million in kickbacks related to a transaction for French submarines. Before she was killed, the Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, claimed she was owed half a million dollars for brokering that deal.

The biggest scandal of all exploded in 2015 when opposition politicians and muckraking journalists questioned what had happened to billions of dollars that had disappeared from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, the country’s state investment fund.

Mr. Najib oversaw the fund, known as 1MDB, and unveiled it in 2009 as a surefire way to bring further prosperity to Malaysians through smart foreign investments and development projects.

In 2016, the United States Justice Department dropped a bombshell: A person it referred to as Malaysian Official 1 had siphoned $731 million from 1MDB. Officials privately confirmed that Mr. Najib was Malaysian Official 1.

The Justice Department’s accusations continued: In total, over $4.5 billion in 1MDB funds was laundered through American banks, enriching Mr. Najib, his family and friends, prosecutors said.

It said $250 million went for a megayacht, complete with a helicopter pad and movie theater, built for Jho Low, a financier friend of Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz. Mr. Low is accused of being central to the plot, and federal prosecutors said he used 1MDB funds to buy the actor Leonardo DiCaprio a $3.2 million Picasso painting for his birthday. The Australian model Miranda Kerr received $8 million in jewelry. (Both have since returned the gifts.)

Mr. Najib explained that $681 million deposited in his personal bank account was a gift from a Saudi patron. In 2015, after Malaysia’s Attorney-General gathered evidence of Mr. Najib’s involvement in 1MDB and seemed poised to press charges, Mr. Najib fired him. Subsequent Malaysian government investigations cleared Mr. Najib of any wrongdoing.

Malaysians were accustomed to a certain amount of grease in the country’s political system, but the extravagant sums linked to the 1MDB scandal shocked the public. United States federal prosecutors called the money-laundering scheme “massive, brazen and blatant.”

Mr. Najib moved to shut down critical news reports, or to spin it in the state media outlets. But he could not block everything.

News outlets including The Sarawak Report blog and the Malaysia-based newspaper The Edge joined The Wall Street Journal at the lead of the race to expose each detail. (The Edge was shut down at one point for three months, and The Sarawak Report website is still blocked in Malaysia.)


The Malaysian political establishment wondered how the son of a famously ascetic Prime Minister had grown so venal and careless. “If you want to steal this kind of money, why would you put it in your own account?” said James Chin, a Malaysian who is the Drector of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. “It shows such arrogance.”

Blame the Wife

Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, in 2014, leaving the Time Warner Center in New York, the site of one of their homes. Ms. Rosmah is known for her overseas shopping trips and a multimillion-dollar collection of Hermès Birkin handbags. CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times

As the public grew angrier about the excesses, Ms. Rosmah became a frequent target of ire.

Her habit of taking chartered shopping expeditions to Europe and Australia, presumably at the expense of Malaysian taxpayers, became social-media fodder. Her Hermès Birkin handbag collection, one broker said, was worth at least $10 million.

“Rightly or wrongly, Rosmah was vilified as the major partner in the corruption and scandals associated with the Prime Minister,” said Lim Teck Ghee, a public policy analyst in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.

In 2015, when Mr. Najib’s and Ms. Rosmah’s daughter married the nephew of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, guests were astonished by their lavish wedding celebrations. Mr. Mahathir, who attended one party, recalled seeing soldiers lugging at least 17 trunks loaded with luxury gifts for the guests. “I had never seen that, even at royal weddings,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2016.

Fazley Yaakob, the husband of Mr. Najib’s stepdaughter, offered another story, which he recounted on Instagram after Mr. Najib lost the election. Before the two were married, Mr. Fazley wrote, Ms. Rosmah hired a witch doctor to assess the suitability of the union. The witch doctor warned against the marriage because Mr. Fazley, unlike others, would be able to resist Ms. Rosmah’s supernatural powers.

The pair married anyway. “All hell broke loose right after,” wrote Mr. Fazley, without detailing exactly what happened.

Mr. Najib was called the “Man of Steal” by Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, one of Malaysia’s top cartoonists, who caricatured Ms. Rosmah with a giant diamond ring on her plump finger. Mr. Najib’s reaction was unforgiving. Mr. Zulkiflee, who is known by the pen name Zunar, was charged with nine counts of sedition and still could face up to 43 years in prison.

This year’s Election Day, Mr. Zulkiflee said, was “the happiest moment of my life,” and he hopes the charges will now be dropped.

During the campaign, Mr. Mahathir, who said he came out of retirement two years ago to join the opposition because he was so shocked by the cloud of corruption around Mr. Najib, succeeded in harnessing public angst over the rising cost of living to financial scandals linked to the Prime Minister. One that particularly resonated with rural Malays, some of whom ended up casting swing votes in favor of the opposition, was a farm subsidy program that, by some accounts, was missing around $750 million. Mr. Najib oversaw that program.

Those defections proved critical, though there was no assurance that Mr. Mahathir could still command his old popularity.

“1MDB was a key factor in the election result,” said Mr. Lim, the public policy analyst. “The long-running scandal became indelibly associated with the endemic high-level corruption in the country.”


Electronic advertising in Kuala Lumpur before the election promoted Mr. Najib and his coalition. Mr. Najib had predicted another victory at the polls this month. CreditUlet Ifansasti/Getty Images 

Failed Containment

Yet even as public outrage intensified, Mr. Najib seemed curiously removed from reality. In omnipresent campaign billboards, he hogged the limelight, his grin and upturned hands evoking less a statesman than a salesman. Malaysian voters were supposed to acquiesce to whatever deal he had on offer.

Mr. Mahathir said he had a falling out with Mr. Najib because of his protégé’s insistence that “cash is king,” both in politics and governance.

Under Mr. Najib’s leadership, the party ensured victory in 2013 by passing out hundreds of millions of dollars to party leaders to give to voters, according to his own aides.

The strategy was similar for 2018, analysts said, and Mr. Najib had predicted that the governing coalition would do even better in this month’s elections than it had in 2013, before the 1MDB scandal broke out.

On the eve of campaigning, Mr. Najib’s information minister, Salleh Said Keruak, bragged that the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, would win easily, and that the party had access to a trove of government data on Malaysian voters. “We have it all at our fingertips,” he said.

Mr. Salleh wasn’t the only one to miscalculate. Local polling agencies predicted the elections would go to the National Front coalition, which is dominated by UMNO. Across the country, public flag displays supporting the National Front vastly outnumbered those of the opposition Alliance of Hope.

Still, there were murmurings of discontent. In a first, Malaysia’s Navy Chief reminded his sailors that the vote was secret so they should choose freely.

And though Mr. Trump met with Mr. Najib at the White House last September, the effort by a former top Republican operative, Elliott Broidy, to get them together again for golf failed, despite Mr. Broidy’s assurance to the White House chief of staff in a leaked email that he knew Mr. Najib well. Mr. Najib didn’t even get a customary photo op during the visit.


A closed road outside Mr. Najib’s mansion, in the background, in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Credit Andy Wong/Associated Press


In the final months of the campaign, Mr. Najib fell back on tried-and-true money politics. The day before the election, he promised that Malaysians 26 and younger would not have to pay income tax if his coalition prevailed. Earlier, he offered significant pay raises to civil servants, who are mostly ethnically Malay rather than from Malaysia’s Chinese or Indian minorities.

“That has always been his style: When faced with difficulties, throw goodies at them,” said Oh Ei Sun, an analyst based in Kuala Lumpur and a former political secretary to Mr. Najib.

Other tactics were more iron-fisted. Shortly before campaigning began, Mr. Najib’s party pushed through a so-called fake news law that was the first in the world to use Mr. Trump’s rejoinder as it criminalized publishing or circulating misleading information. The law, critics feared, could land anyone who criticized Mr. Najib in prison for up to six years. His government also designed a broad gerrymandering scheme that diminished the impact of minorities who were unlikely to vote for him.

None of these efforts worked. “The Najib brand is toxic,” said Mr. Chin of the University of Tasmania. “There was no way he could run away from this.”

On Sunday, Mr. Najib and Ms. Rosmah were still secluded in their mansion in Kuala Lumpur. A bodyguard at their home, who asked not to be identified in the press out of fear of reprisals, said that the stream of confidants who once knocked at their door had stopped. Even their housekeeper, he said, had deserted them.

Hannah Beech and Richard C. Paddock reported from Kuala Lumpur, and Alexandra Stevenson from Hong Kong. Sharon Tan and Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Kuala Lumpur, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.


A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Spectacular Fall of Malaysia’s ‘Man of Steal’.

Rebuilding Malaysia: Titanic Task

May 15, 2018

By John Berthelsen@

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The defeat of the national ruling coalition (UMNO-led Barisan Nasional) in Malaysia was a remarkable political event.  But now seriously difficult work has to begin if the country is to regain its onetime position as one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive economies and indeed rebuild parliamentary democracy itself.

Virtually all of the country’s institutions have been debased, lots of them by Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former Prime Minister who has been greeted as Malaysia’s savior. In the atmosphere of relief and triumph that has swept Kuala Lumpur since the May 9 election, it is worth a look at how far the country has to go.  As Germany learned after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, rebuilding is a daunting job.

It was Mahathir, for instance,  who, prior to the 2013 national election, made his first break with the now deposed Prime Minister Najib Razak because he felt Najib wasn’t favoring ethnic Malays enough and was too easy on the ethnic Chinese.  Mahathir led his own nationwide tour built on Ketuanan Melayu, or Malays first, with a firebrand named Ibrahim Ali who stopped just short of threatening violence if the opposition prevailed in that election.  He hasn’t instilled a lot of confidence by saying he would restore press freedom — which he largely destroyed in his previous prime ministerial stint — but expects to retain the “fake news” bill put into effect right before the May 9 election.

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Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Mahathir’s new political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, translates literally as Malaysian Indigenous United. Its officers include Muhyiddin Yassin, one of the country’s most dedicated Malays-first figures and one with a background that includes considerable unexplained wealth. The newly re-minted Prime Minister Mahathir has named Muhyiddin Home Affairs Minister.

Other party leaders are former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, and Rafidah Aziz, the former Trade and Industry Minister. Its newest members are renegades who quit UMNO .  They have vowed to give up Malays-first politics and Rafidah herself in May made a speech saying she had “always hated racial politics.”

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All of them may have changed their ethnically-oriented political spots, as Mahathir says he has. If they have, it is an extraordinary turnaround. It remains to be seen, for instance, how they, so recently in Malays-first mode, will interact with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party. Rafizi Ramli, the Secretary-General of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by the jailed Anwar Ibrahim, has already complained that Mahathir is making decisions without consulting the three other parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.  Rafizi was immediately told to shut up by his colleagues.  But Rafizi may be remembering Mahathir as the autocrat he was as Prime Minister.

The country’s judges, all the way up to the Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, presumably will now have to relearn jurisprudence from top to bottom, or almost the entire judiciary is going to have to be sacked. For example the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim on bogus charges of homosexual activity that were clearly flawed. The complaining witness appeared to have been coached by Najib and his wife. Two hospitals found no evidence his anus had been penetrated. A full 50 hours elapsed before he found a hospital that would agree he had had sexual contact. DNA evidence that was supposedly Anwar’s was ruled by a lower court to be flawed.  Anwar had a convincing alibi.

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Nonetheless, the high court convicted Anwar in a case roundly condemned by international human rights organizations. That is only one of 30 years of skewed judicial decisions that began after Mahathir sacked Tun Salleh Abbas, the Chief Justice,  in 1988.  Presumably it is up to Mahathir, who has been on the receiving end of warped judicial decisions when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu was outlawed on a dubious technicality shortly before the election, to put the Judiciary right again.

The same goes for its Police Force, which showed little zeal in investigating a long string of crimes including the death of Kevin Morais, a deputy public prosecutor connected to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, whose body was found in a cement-filled oil drum in a river. Morais is believed to have been a major source for Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose Sarawak Report has excoriated Najib for the 1MDB affair with deeply researched and sourced allegations of corruption.

A report on corruption, apparently largely written by Morais, disappeared in 2016 – along with the previous Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail – who was replaced by Mohamed Apandi Ali, an UMNO lawyer, and promptly said there was no wrongdoing connected to 1MDB.

The Malay business community has largely depended for its success on having its snout in the public trough. Some of the country’s biggest companies are linked directly to the political parties. Presumably, if good government is to prevail, many of these contracts will have to be unwound, particularly for infrastructure spending. Will the companies now have to learn to compete on a level playing field, or will they seek out sympathetic figures in the new administration?

Other institutions that face wrenching change are all of the mainstream media including the two leading English-language newspapers, The Star and The New Straits Times, which are still owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) respectively and the superstructures of the newspaper remain in the hands of those two political parties. Utusan Malaysia, also owned by UMNO and which was virulently racist against ethnic Chinese and Indians still has the same editorial structure, as do all the other major television, radio and other media.  All have been bitterly opposed to the opposition for decades, with their slanted reporting increasing as the May 9 election approached.

The education system, again a creature that came into being under Mahathir, not only largely excludes minorities, forcing them to go overseas for higher education, but has resulted in what amounts to a free pass and graduation for ethnic Malays, a system in which striving is unnecessary. It has resulted in a largely uneducated population. The system, with all of its vested interests, is going to be extremely difficult to reform. But for the country to regain its competitiveness, it will have to be rebuilt.

Perhaps most difficult to fix is its religious institutions, particularly Islam, which have been bent to serve political ends, first by Mahathir and then by Najib as they exploited the delicate ethnic balance in the country to keep UMNO  in power. Through the newspapers and other media, they cast the Chinese as grasping and ready to take political power. Christians – which make up a sizable portion of the Chinese population as well as indigenous tribes in East Malaysia – have been demonized.

In 2017, a popular Chinese pastor, Raymond Koh, was kidnapped. He has never been found, nor has Joshua Hilmy, a convert from Islam, who was reported missing along with his wife, Ruth, who were reported missing in March.  Koh’s wife has questioned whether people in power were involved in his disappearance. Police investigations into the kidnappings have been described as lackadaisical.

Najib was on the edge of pushing through a law in Parliament that would have allowed Parti-Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, to implement Shariah law, including prescriptions for seventh-century punishments, in the state of Kelantan, which it then controlled. PAS has now expanded its political hold to Terengganu as well.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail

In a country where distrust of ethnic minorities has been ingrained for decades, particularly in the most recent one, rebuilding trust is going to be difficult. Learning to compete may be even more difficult. The Chinese are largely more dynamic than the Malays, especially since the Malays’ education system, their political system, their social institutions as exemplified in the affirmative action program known as the New Economic Policy,  have all conspired to give them a free ride.

Faking Malaysia (or is it, Malusia)

April 12, 2018

Faking Malaysia (or is it, Malusia)

by Dean Johns

Dean Johns Ad Lib

I shouldn’t by rights be writing this. Because after 11 years of contributing a weekly column to the first and still foremost of Malaysia’s pitifully few non-fake newspapers, Malaysiakini, I’ve had to take a break for the sake of my faking sanity.

But with another typically fake Malaysian federal election looming, I just can’t help adding a few more to the 500,000 or so words of calumnious columny I’ve already composed about this nation’s decomposing ‘democracy’.

Or, more accurately, about the ministers, members and supporters of Barisan Nasional (BN), the rotten-to-the-core regime that has been ruling and ruining Malaysia ever since the nation was granted independence by Britain 61 years ago, and changed its name from Malaya to Malaysia.

A moniker that quickly became fake, as the ‘si’ syllable in its new name represented the fact that it supposedly included Singapore.

But, for fear of having to deal with all those pesky extra Chinese led by the then young firebrand Lee Kuan Yew, UMNO, the dominant Malay member of the coalition of race-based parties comprising the the Alliance, as BN was known in those days, soon threw Singapore out and thus made the ‘si’ in Malaysia misleading.

Thus equipped with a fake name, and a constitution falsely deeming Malays to be definitively Muslim as well as providing special privileges for them on the grounds that they were the first inhabitants of the country, a clearly fake claim in light of the existence there of the ‘orang asli’ (original people) long before Malays migrated there from present-day Indonesia and the Philippines, the ruling coalition proceeded to create a fake facsimile of Westminster-style democracy.

Image result for Najib Razak and his cronies

Najib Razak and his supporters

Complete with an agung (king) periodically chosen from not just one family of hereditary ‘royal’ parasites as in Britain, but nine of them, headed by the very sultans who had been bribed with cash, Rolls-Royces and other perks by the former colonial powers to keep their subjects abject.

And a coalition, as mentioned above, consisting of parties representing the various races, principally the Malays, Chinese and Indians, leaving little if any room for a proper opposition, plus so privileging the Malays as to inevitably promote racial resentments and tensions.

Or, indeed, outright hostilities, as on May 13, 1969 when there was an outbreak of bloody anti-Chinese rioting allegedly instigated by Tun Abdul Razak, father of current Prime Minister Najib Razak, in what proved to be a successful bid to seize the top job from the nation’s inaugural Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

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Dr. Mahathir Mohamad–Malaysia’s Former Strong Man turned Democrat-Reformer

Ever since then, and especially during the 22-year+ premiership, or, if you prefer, doctatorship of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s always highly dubious ‘democracy’, or more accurately, as I proposed in a long-ago column, ‘dermocracy’, given that it’s based on race or in other words skin colour, has been totally destroyed by the increasingly incompetent and corrupt UMNO dominated Barisan Nasional regime (aided and abetted by a fawning civil service and an utterly corrupt Police force) and the millions of fakewitted Malaysians (mainly Malays) who have been systematically bullied, bribed, bullshitted and bamboozled into keeping on voting for it.

Image result for Malaysia's Red Shirts and Najib Razak


Bullied by threats of a repeat of the May 13, 1969 riots, as in Najib Razak’s oft-expressed determination to hold onto power even at the cost of ‘broken bodies and lost lives’; or of arrest under the Internal Security Act, since replaced by the equally severe Sedition Act; or of dismissal of dissenting civil servants or withdrawal of government scholarships from students suspected of disloyalty to the regime.

To back-up all this bullying, Malaysian voters are bribed with often utterly empty promises of government expenditure on infrastructure and other improvements in their electorates, plus salary-raises, bonuses, extra handouts under the so-called BR1M scheme, and additionally bribed every election day with free meals, bags of rice and sundry other ‘gifts’ including hard cash.

Besides all this bullying and bribery, Malaysians are ceaselessly bombarded with barrages of BN-regime bullshit. Faked-over in every possible way, from being faced with Najib Razak’s fantastic invention of some apparently parallel nation he called ‘1Malaysia’, and under which banner he proceeded to create a whole raft of fake initiatives ranging from falsely ‘economical’ food outlets to the massive global financial fraud and money-laundering scam 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), to being fed a steady diet of fake ‘news’ by Malaysia’s regime-controlled and thus ruthlessly truthless press, radio, television and outdoor media.

And if all that wasn’t sufficiently bamboozling, BN has progressively, by which of course I mean regressively perverted the Police from a force for public law and order into a farce for the protection of regime flaws and ordure; turned the formerly independent and impartial judiciary into a regime-skewed and indeed screwed travesty of justice; made such a mockery of the so-called Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) that it turns a totally blind eye to regime and crony corruption, and gets away with such faking outrages as the death of witness Teoh Beng Hock in its custody; has so comprehensively corrupted the ‘religious’ authorities (JAWi and JAKIM) as to constitute a disgrace to the very Islam it so faux-piously claims to ‘protect’; and so successfully suborned the Election Commission as to blatantly manipulate electoral boundaries, numbers and even racial mixes in its favour.

All of the above is concealed as far as possible from the Malaysian people, of course, by the BN-controled so-called ‘mainstream media’, newspapers, television, radio and increasing numbers of online sites all keeping silent about BN crimes and corruptions, and loudly proclaiming the regime’s fake propaganda.

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@Kini–Let us build something great together- The gallant men and women of Malaysiakini led by Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran.

And now, in an attempt to shut-down the small space for true, independent news and views opened-up by Malaysiakini two decades ago and since expanded by other online portals like Malaysia Today and Sarawak Report, the faking powers that be have passed a so-called ‘The Anti Fake News Act’. Which is in fact an act of bastardry designed to ban the spread of truths that BN deems to be fake, as in contrary to its corrupt and outright criminal interests, by way of penalties of up to six years imprisonment, or fines of up to RM500,000 (about US$120,000), or both.

So, as everything I’ve written in this piece is as far as I know the gospel truth about the BN regime, and thus very likely to be viewed by its self-styled censors as ‘fake news’ under the Act, I won’t be sending it to Malaysiakini for possible publication as a column.

Image result for Dean JohnsMy Friend Dean Johns


The very last thing I want to do is to risk costing Steven Gan, Premesh Chandran or any other members of the Malaysiakini family, of which I’ve so long been proud to be an honorary and I hope honest and honourable member, a slew of cash or a spell in the slammer, let alone both.

But from down here in Sydney I can relatively safely blog as much true or in other words fake fake news as I like, in the faint hope that it might by roundabout means reach enough of the vast majority of unfake Malaysians to help strengthen them in their resolve to finally force their fake and on-the-take BN government to for once and for all fake off.


The Law starts with you, Tawfik Tun Ismail urges MPs to stop Hadi’s bill

March 8, 2018

The Law starts with you, Tawfik Tun Ismail urges MPs to stop Hadi’s bill

 by FMT Reporters

The former MP again says while the Royal Address is being debated, the Dewan Rakyat is set to debate PAS’ shariah bill in defiance of the High Court judgement.

KUALA LUMPUR: Outspoken former MP Tawfik Tun Ismail who is seeking to stop the tabling of PAS’ shariah bill in Parliament has again warned that matters on religion come under the jurisdiction of the Malay Rulers, and as such it would be against the Rule of Law to list the bill in the Dewan Rakyat’s Order Paper.

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“The Rule of Law starts at the House of Laws,” said Tawfik, the son of the late Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs in the Seventies.

Tawfik has named Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia and Secretary Roosme Hamzah as defendants in his bid to seek a court order to stop the tabling of a bill to amend the the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, known by its Malay acronym RUU355.

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Image result for tawfik tun dr ismailWhat Rule is the Speaker talking about? Most of the time this moronic Pandikar does not know his job. The Rule of Law is Greek to him. He is another Najib Razak’s horndog, says The Chimp


The amendments proposed by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang seek to give wider powers to shariah courts as well as introducing stiffer sentences on Muslim offenders.

On February 22, Tawfik scored an initial victory against Pandikar after the High Court rejected the Speaker’s attempt to throw out his suit.

Tawfik has since warned against debating the bill in Parliament, and urged the Attorney-General to advise Pandikar that it would be subjudice to list the bill in the Order Paper, which lists the day’s business for the Dewan Rakyat.

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Strange Bedfellows in a Pact to ruin Malaysia for Political Gain

“It is unparliamentary and most improper of, and against the rule of law, for the House to debate the motion of thanks to His Majesty… while Hadi’s bill to amend RUU355 stares you in the face in the daily Order Paper, in defiance of the judgement from the High Court, using laws that were passed in this August House, and in blatant contravention of the Constitution,” he said today.

Tawfik said listing Hadi’s bill in the Order Paper also contradicted the Speaker’s own decision in the past to stop debates on matters that had gone to court, including foreign courts.

He said Pandikar “should apply the same standards to this matter currently being heard before our own nation’s courts”.

“As the next general election is imminent, members from both sides of the House must stand united and obey the very laws you passed, demonstrate your sworn commitment to the nation that gave you the sacred duty to defend, uphold and protect their constitutional rights, and demand the private member’s bill be withdrawn from the Order Paper immediately,” said Tawfik, who also reminded MPs of the oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitution.

“Not to do so is clear contempt of His Majesty and His Majesty’s judges, in blatant defiance and contravention of the constitution, and the trust that the citizens of this nation have placed upon you all, and the thin end of the wedge that would open the door to further erosion of our fragile Constitution.”

Hadi’s bill seeks to raise the maximum punishment on shariah offenders from the current 3 years’ jail to 30 years, as well as to impose a fine of up to RM100,000 and 100 strokes of the cane.

But Tawfik, in his suit against Pandikar, said Hadi’s motion did not conform with the requirements of the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat and that it violated Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees equality for all Malaysians.

Rafizi Ramli and the Price of Idealism

February 9, 2018

Rafizi Ramli and the Price of Idealism

by James

Would you be willing to go to jail for something you believe in?

30 months in jail. That is the price Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli and former Public Bank clerk Johari Mohamad are paying for something they believed in.

A bank clerk is very good at putting things in order. One day he finds data that could indicate the money trail of misused public funds. Anxious, he hands it to a politician. His heart stops racing momentarily. The politician investigates further and finds no cows. RM250 million later, still no cows.

Instead, we have 30-month imprisonments for the man and the politician. Isn’t there something wrong?

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 UMNO’s Dato Shahrizat Abdul Jalil

Isn’t there something wrong with our criminal justice system when we convict people too easily and sentence too excessively? Isn’t there something wrong when our judges are not tempered with judicial sensibilities of justice and mercy? Isn’t there something wrong when good people with good intentions go to jail?

Rafizi and Johari–Ordinary Malaysians who couldn’t stand the stench of corruption and abuse of power became victims of injustice.

When Rafizi first investigated the National Feedlot Corporation scandal, he wasn’t well known to the public. At that time, both Johari (on right in photo) and Rafizi were simply ordinary citizens who couldn’t stand the smell of alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Injustice is not something only known to academic scholars or moral philosophers; injustice is something universally and timelessly felt – everyone can smell it.

Some skeptics are cynical of Rafizi’s singular devotion to truth. They say that all of this is merely a ploy in his journey to martyrdom.

Image result for NFC's Chairman Datuk Dr Mohamad Salleh IsmailNFC’s Chairman Datuk Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail


But we would be damned to think that this is a self-serving journey. One conviction resultant from the struggle for truth is one conviction too many. Prison walls are supposed to house only those who present an imminent threat to society – the “worst of the worst”.

Prisons are placed at the lowest rung of every social hierarchy, since its primary purpose is to punish unacceptable actions and behaviours. It does so by removing your physical mobility, torturing your mental authority and decimating the last of your soulful existence.

If we look at what Rafizi has done since the eve of his political career, and at the insurmountable courage of ordinary people like Johari, they hardly fit the description of being the worst of the worst of our society.

In fact, people like them ought to be exemplary reminders of what ordinary people can do. Words like “justice,” “truth,” and “struggle” find their owners in men like these.

Actualising Idealism

Rafizi and Johari had everything to lose. Rafizi was the youngest senior manager at PeTRONAS and could have remained and risen spectacularly through its corporate ranks.

Instead, he chose to expose the NFC scandal, which first sent him to the cunning world of politics – and now to prison. Once he was at the very top of the mountain; now he is forced to march to the lowest abyss of prison cells.

Johari was a bank clerk living from hand to mouth. He knew that he would have his livelihood forfeited if he was to be served with imprisonment. Many called him an “ordinary” bank clerk – but I refuse, for he is anything but.

Many of us are idealistic when we are young. Our aspirations for how society should be are a central part of our being.

But as we get older, we are told to be more practical. We are told to “earn money first, do justice later”. We are told, “Dear, no one pays you to fight for justice; you only pay dearly.”

The rat race of adult life reveals that your youthful idealism is actually just naïve foolishness. So maybe Rafizi and Johari were indeed just a foolish pair who believed fairness and justice were possible for humanity.

But maybe – just maybe – they are who we are if we had a heart of steel and spirited moral courage. Maybe they are who we want but are too afraid to be. Maybe a part of them is a part of who we are.

The process of combating evil is so terrifying that we need courageous soldiers to walk into the fire first. If idealism is the fire in your belly, then actualising idealism means walking through the fire.

After all the words of tongue and pen, this question visits me again and again: Would you be willing to go to jail for something you believe in?


JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai.