With Najib Razak behind bars, could Malaysia’s corruption fight be winnable at last?
- For the first time ever, an ex-Malaysian PM is serving time in prison for a criminal offence – and Najib Razak still faces multiple other allegations
- Some see the verdict as just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and a victory in the fight to clean up the country’s politics, but Mahathir’s not so sure
The decision was a long time coming for Najib, who now holds the dubious distinction of being the country’s first former prime minister to be jailed for a criminal offence.
“National rogue,” said @Hasif225, retweeting a picture of Najib, who appeared to be in handcuffs, being escorted by prison wardens to a Kuala Lumpur court on Thursday for a separate trial dealing directly with 1MDB.
Critics and the opposition were quick to declare the verdict a victory for the country and Malaysians in the fight against corruption and abuse of power, which have long been blamed on Najib’s former ruling Umno party and the Barisan Nasional coalition that it leads.
“They stood up to a regime of kleptocrats who had grown so accustomed to winning they failed to sense the rising tide of anger and resentment against them,” Anwar said in his keynote address at a forum on Thursday.
SRC case just the beginning
In the years since 2018’s change of government, Malaysia has seen arguably the largest number of investigations and corruption charges levied against high-profile politicians in the nation’s history.
Besides his conviction, Najib also faces four more trials directly related to 1MDB. He has denied all wrongdoing.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) said that the apex court’s decision to uphold Najib’s conviction was a testament of the “strength and independence” of Malaysia’s judiciary, and proves that there is hope for justice despite the sometimes bleak outlook for whistle-blowers and advocates fighting over the years to rid Malaysia of the scourge of corruption.
Malaysia is ranked 62nd out of 180 countries in the latest edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
Apart from Najib, at least six other Umno figures – including current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – currently face criminal cases linked to charges linked to corruption, money laundering, abuse of power or criminal breach of trust.
In the opposition camp, Lim Guan Eng, the chief of the Democratic Action Party and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, the charismatic leader of Muda, a youth-centric party, are currently on trial in separate corruption cases. On both sides of the political divide, those implicated in corruption cases say they are victims of political witch hunts.
The C4 Centre cautioned that the SRC International case may be just the tip of the iceberg given the numerous corruption allegations linked to Najib, especially during his nine years as prime minister.
“As we continue in our fight against corruption and abuse of power, we should take heed that victory can only come with the collective effort of the rakyat,” the centre said in a statement on Tuesday, using the Malay term for citizens.
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’
Mahathir, who had mentored both Anwar and Najib before making enemies of them, was less sanguine about how far the other corruption trials would progress.
Mahathir was prime minister when Anwar was sent for his first stint in jail for corruption and sodomy – charges that were later overturned – and again prime minister when Najib was charged for corruption.
The 97-year-old, who was accused of defanging the judiciary during his first tenure as prime minister between 1981 and 2003, cautioned that the alleged delaying tactics employed by Najib during his SRC International case had invariably led to delays in other cases involving his party colleagues.
Mahathir predicted Najib would deploy “all sorts of excuses” to delay court proceedings in his four remaining trials, further hindering the pursuit of justice.
“Now there are many reports lodged on serious cases of corruption that have yet to be brought to trial. There is a large probability that criminals will avoid being punished for their crimes,” Mahathir said in a blog post published on Wednesday.
“It is true as the English saying goes, that justice delayed is justice denied.”