The troubles of Malaysia’s prime minister continue

Jul 30th 2015 | SINGAPORE | Asia

Najib Razak sacks five ministers, including his deputy

HOW many lousy weeks comprise an annus horribilis? If current conditions continue, Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, will find out. For months Mr Najib has been buffeted by allegations of corruption at a state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he set up six years ago. Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that some $700m from companies associated with 1MDB was paid into what investigators believe are his personal bank accounts. (Mr Najib vigorously denies any wrongdoing.)

On Monday Mr Najib seemed to get a rare bit of good news: Malaysia was bumped up from the bottom to second-to-last of four tiers in America’s Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks governments on their efforts to combat people smuggling. But he did not get to enjoy that news for long. Critics pointed out that, earlier this year, graves were discovered in traffickers’ camps near Malaysia’s border with Thailand, and just this week reports emerged alleging that migrants were forced to work without pay on palm-oil plantations. Some believe that the elevation stemmed not from actual efforts to fight trafficking, but from America’s desire to pass smoothly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal currently being negotiated among a dozen Pacific countries including Malaysia.

On Tuesday Mr Najib sacked five ministers, among them his attorney-general, Abdul Gani Patail, who said he had received documents concerning the prime minister and 1MDB; and his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, who had made comments critical of how the government had handled the 1MDB scandal. On Wednesday night a video surfaced that appeared to show Mr Muhyiddin telling several guests at his home that Mr Najib admitted that 2.6 billion ringgit ($683m) was paid into his personal account.

Among those Mr Najib promoted to the cabinet was Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who had been chairing a parliamentary committee looking into the 1MDB allegations. He will resign from that post, which will cause the committee to suspend its investigation until October. That may give Mr Najib time, but that is all he has. The support of his own party, which has ruled Malaysia since independence, is shaky, and would be shakier still if a viable replacement could be found.

On Wednesday evening, a fire broke out at Malaysia’s police headquarters. The Twitter jokes practically wrote themselves. Malaysia’s police chief tweeted that nothing important was lost. “Stop the rumours”, he urged. Easier said than done.

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