Malaysia’s Prime Minister broke a cardinal rule in politics. He inadvertently admitted ‘guilt’ when the Malaysian Anti-corruption Commission cleared him of any wrong doing in accepting a political donation. His position – vulnerable since his ascent to premiership – is no longer tenable as Malaysians question his sincerity and trustworthiness.
On 2 July 2015, the Wall Street Journal alleged that $700 million had gone into a personal bank account of Malaysia’s Prime Minister. The Prime Minister offered a non-denial denial :
Let me be very clear: I have never taken funds for personal gain as alleged by my political opponents – whether from 1MDB, SRC International or other entities, as these companies have confirmed.
The Prime Minister also labelled the report a political sabotage and threatened to sue the Wall Street Journal (more than a month after the allegation was made, at time of publishing this article, the Prime Minister has yet to sue).
As the noose tightened around his neck, the Prime Minister went for broke.
On 20 July 2015, the Sarawak Report, a blog that had been systematically publishing reports on corruption and abuse of power in Malaysia was blocked by ‘the government’. An arrest warrant for its founder-editor, Clare Rewcastle-Brown was subsequently issued.
On 24 July 2015, ‘the government’ announced that The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly that had been reporting extensively on the 1MDB issue were to be suspended for three months.
On 28 July 2015, the prime minister sacked his deputy and four other ministers in a cabinet reshuffle in an effort to strengthen his control of the government and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). With the cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister also neutralized the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that had been vigorously investigating the 1MDB affair. He also removed the attorney-general, who as part of a high-level task force (involving the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Central Bank of Malaysia, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Royal Malaysian Police) was believed to have been preparing to charge the prime minister for corruption.
After pulling off this brazen act skilfully, the Prime Minister blinked.
On 3 August 2015, the ‘MACC’ announced that the $700 million channelled into the Prime Minister’s personal bank account came from donors. In doing this, the Prime Minister inadvertently confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s report and opened Pandora ’s Box .
This admission of ‘guilt’ has taken the toxicity of the Prime Minister to an all-time high. More damaging than the legality of the matter (i.e. was it corrupt for the Prime Minister to solicit donations on behalf of UMNO; is it certain that the donations were for UMNO; who donated; what were the donations for; were the donations used at the 2013 general elections; did the donation break Malaysian laws; etc) is the question of trust and legitimacy.
Malaysians will now once again question the Prime Minister’s honesty and sincerity in denying all other allegations made against him, his family and his administration. After all, if the Wall Street Journal’s preposterous allegation is correct, could all other preposterous allegations be true?
Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the preposterous allegations made by the suspended The Edge Finance Daily and The Edge Weekly.
Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the numerous preposterous allegations made by the blocked Sarawak Report.
Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the many preposterous allegations on 1MDB by members of the opposition.
Malaysians may also begin to wonder if there is truth to all other preposterous allegations made about the Prime Minister, his wife and his family.
Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the preposterous claims being made by Bersih 2.0, namely that elections are neither free nor fair in Malaysia.
UMNO members will begin to wonder if there is truth to the sacked Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyddin’s preposterous premonitions about UMNO’s future.
Having realised this faux pas, the Prime Minister and UMNO are currently engaged in rear-guard action to correct the mistake. But for an embattled Prime Minister already suffering serious trust and legitimacy deficit, this may be too late.
One should not however dismiss the Prime Minister outright. It goes without saying that a dead man walking can be very unpredictable and dangerous.
Note: It appears that ‘the government’ and its ‘agencies’ (e.g. the Attorney General’s Office, the MACC, the Central Bank) are divided on 1MDB. It appears that some are aligned to protecting the Prime Minister, others intent on removing him, and some who are just doing their work. I discuss this in next week’s article.