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Former Malaysian police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. Photo: AP

Malaysian ex-police chief Abdul Hamid’s expose makes waves but won’t spark reforms: experts

  • Abdul Hamid Bador, who stepped down on May 3, accused officials such as the Home Minister of using the force’s secretive Special Branch for ‘political purposes’
  • Observers say the revelations are ‘not new’, and are pessimistic that anything will change under new police chief Acryl Sani’s leadership
When Malaysia’s former police chief last week took aim at government officials over their links to elite officers as he passed the reins to his successor, insiders who had long discussed the issue in hushed tones found their suspicions brought out in the open.
Abdul Hamid Bador, who stepped down as the national inspector-general of police on May 3, had unleashed an unbridled attack at Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government that drew particular attention to the current Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin.

“I was informed that the minister had forced the Special Branch to conduct several operations for its own political purposes,” he was quoted as saying by The Malaysia Gazette newspaper.

“I cannot reveal which operations, because every Special Branch operation is secret, but suffice it to say that the objective was not in line with the mandate given to preserve and manage national security,” he added.

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Abdul Hamid, who was appointed to head the 130,000-strong police force by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2019, also claimed that Hamzah had “arranged measures” to have his “boy” – a former top Special Branch officer – assume the position of Special Branch director later this year.

The plan was thwarted after the matter was brought before Mahathir, he claimed.

During the dramatic press conference, Abdul Hamid also said that Hamzah – a key lieutenant to Muhyiddin – had been involved in decisions on police appointments in his capacity as the president of the Police Forces Commission.

Abdul Hamid’s expose has prompted comments from other senior figures, such as Musa Hassan – the police chief from 2006 to 2010 – who said political interference in police work existed during his tenure.

Syed Hamid Albar, the home minister from 2008 to 2009, on Saturday meanwhile appeared to chide Abdul Hamid over his claims, telling online news portal Malaysiakini that the matter should have been discussed “internally”.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin. Photo: Twitter

For long-time political observers, the saga has reinforced their suspicions that the Special Branch has long served the interests of the government of the day, alongside its public stated mission of gathering intelligence to prevent national security threats.

The unit is a vestige of the colonial era and was retained by the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) when it took power from the British in 1957.

The Malay-only party ruled the country for 61 uninterrupted years as part of the Barisan Nasional alliance, until Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition toppled it in 2018. But Umno has since returned to power after Muhyiddin ousted Mahathir last year.

“[Abdul Hamid’s revelations] are not a new thing. We know that during the Barisan Nasional administration, the Special Branch acted as an intelligence wing of Umno,” said James Chin, a professor at Australia’s Tasmania University.

The former inspector-general of police has … spoken his mind on several occasions on corruption and other issues, within and outside of the police
Oh Ei Sun, analyst
Oh Ei Sun, another observer of Malaysian politics, said the episode was reflective of Abdul Hamid’s “independent streak” – a trait citizens had come to admire given how senior police officers in the country were otherwise generally thought of as beholden to elected officials.
Abdul Hamid has had brushes with his political masters: in 2015, he was abruptly removed as the Special Branch’s deputy director after he insisted on investigating the 1MDB financial scandal that implicated Najib Razak, the prime minister at the time.

Najib was defeated in the 2018 poll and last year was convicted in the first of a series of trials linking him to the multibillion-dollar scandal.

“The former inspector-general of police has long been known to have a very independent streak. He has spoken his mind on several occasions on corruption and other issues, within and outside of the police,” Oh said.

“Quite a lot of people will miss him because it’s very refreshing to have the top law enforcement officer in the country tell you about the difficulties faced [by the force],” she added.

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The analysts were pessimistic of any reforms under new police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani’s leadership, given the stance of the country’s civilian leadership.

Aside from Abdul Hamid’s criticism, the force has in recent weeks also contended with controversies surrounding the investigations into graphic artist and activist Fahmi Reza, and political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque.
Separately, Acryl Sani angered social media users on April 26 after making comments to reporters that appeared to be dismissive of a teenager’s complaint on TikTok that her teacher had made rape jokes. The force later said his comments were misconstrued.
Malaysia’s inspector-general of police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani. Photo: Facebook/Royal Malaysia Police

Veteran crime reporter Najib Abdul Rahman, who has for years monitored developments at the police force, said it remained to be seen whether the change of guard meant Hamzah’s alleged overreach into police matters would end.

The country is currently in a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, giving the government the power to rule by decree – and by extension, allowing the likes of Hamzah to dictate policies without the oversight of parliament.

“Acryl Sani will, for the time being, have to be calm and ride out the storm,” said Najib Abdul Rahman, whose father Abdul Rahman Hashim, a serving inspector-general of police, was assassinated in 1974. He suggested the police force could “get back its shine and mojo” if Hamzah was no longer the home minister.

That prospect is unlikely for now with Hamzah’s position secure amid the state of national emergency.

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Joceline Tan, a commentator with The Star newspaper known for her links with the political establishment, said in a column published on Saturday that despite her “mixed feelings” about Abdul Hamid’s tell-all, it was also “assuring to know that there are good men in the force”.

“[Abdul Hamid] did some damage to Hamzah, but the minister is determined to move on and to build a better working relationship with the new inspector-general of police, Datuk Seri Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani,” Tan wrote.

“Hamzah has chosen not to respond even though silence is not always golden. The point is, he is still up there and remains as powerful as ever.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: comments by ex-police chief ‘unlikely to bring reforms’