Fall from grace: On Malaysian ex-PM Najib Razak

Fall from grace: On Malaysian ex-PM Najib Razak



July 30, 2020 00:02 IST

Updated:


July 30, 2020 00:43 IST



July 30, 2020 00:02 IST

Updated:


July 30, 2020 00:43 IST

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin must not undermine the rule of law to cling to power

For over four decades, Najib Razak was one of the most powerful voices of Malaysian politics. The son of a former Prime Minister, a legislator for decades and an all-powerful Prime Minister for nine years, he suffered the biggest setback in his eventful career on Tuesday when a trial court found him guilty on seven corruption charges in connection with the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) financial fraud. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $50 million. Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen from the 1MDB — an investment fund he launched in 2009 when Prime Minister — by employees of the fund or of the government. The money was traced by prosecutors to a mega-yacht, a Picasso painting and the Hollywood film, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. His bank accounts received about $1 billion. The allegations cost him dearly, leading to the first election defeat of Mr. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), in 2018. But infighting within the ruling coalition led by nonagenarian Mahathir Mohamad led to the fall of the new government, returning Mr. Najib’s party to power earlier this year. The country’s prosecution and judiciary went ahead with the trial despite the change in government and held one of the most powerful men accountable for his actions. The trial court has stayed the sentences until a higher court gives a final verdict on his planned appeal.

The verdict comes at a time when the Southeast Asian country continues to grapple with political instability. The new government of Muhyiddin Yassin has a razor-thin majority in Parliament. The Opposition, led by the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim, accused the government of trying to help Mr. Najib. In May, prosecutors had cut a deal with Mr. Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz and dropped 1MDB-related charges against him, which triggered a political backlash. With Mr. Najib’s conviction, the Opposition is likely to revive its calls for a vote of confidence, which Prime Minister Muhyiddin has resisted so far. He would also face pressure from the UMNO, whose 39 MPs are supporting his government. UMNO leaders have already come out in support for Mr. Najib, calling the case politically motivated. If Mr. Muhyiddin disowns Mr. Najib, who, besides the appeals, also faces a host of other corruption charges, the Prime Minister could face a revolt from the UMNO, leading to his government’s collapse. If he interferes in the investigation and trial, it could politically strengthen the Opposition narrative and prove risky for him, especially when Malaysia is going through a volatile phase. Ideally, Mr. Muhyiddin should uphold the law, respect the independence of the prosecution and distance his government from Mr. Najib. But that would also mean putting his government at risk.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2020 6:44:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/fall-from-grace-the-hindu-editorial-on-malaysian-ex-pm-najib-razak/article32225365.ece

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