Najib’s push for his own political survival is threatening Malaysia’s future
A crackdown on opponents may strengthen his position, but is threatening the country’s racial and religious harmony and the possibility of clean and effective governance
A scandal that may well rank as Malaysia’s biggest has not dented the political fortunes of Prime Minister Najib Razak. His Barisan Nasional ruling coalition easily won two by-elections last month and a state poll in May, prompting a cabinet reshuffle and a fresh crackdown on critics. A prominent opposition figure has been arrested on graft charges and a new investigation launched against vocal detractor and former leader Mahathir Mohammad. The moves strengthen Najib’s position ahead of the 2018 national elections, but are also threatening the country’s racial and religious harmony and the possibility of clean and effective governance.
Lim Guan Eng, the chief minister of Penang and secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, is the latest in a string of opponents to be accused of wrongdoing. Other critics, among them members of Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the leading party in the coalition, have been removed for claiming the law has been selectively enforced over the money-laundering scandal involving the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The latest are Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, who quit the party after being suspended, deputy president Muhyddin Yassin and Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz Mahathir, who were both sacked.
Seven jurisdictions, among them the US and Hong Kong, are investigating the disappearance of up to US$4 billion from 1MDB. Najib has been cleared by Malaysian authorities of acting improperly over the movement of US$681 million from a 1MDB entity through his bank account. The accusations have not gone away, but neither have they harmed him politically and he has been able to capitalise on a fracturing of the opposition. Umno has also been moving closer to a conservative Muslim party that supports the introduction of Sharia law.
Najib’s government is undermining the country’s fundamentals. He is putting political survival ahead of Malaysians’ interests. Business and foreign investment will stay away until he embraces open and inclusive politics.