It will be a great misfortune for Malaysia if instead of being a national wake-up call to all Malaysians to rise above personal and party interersts and to unite as Malaysians to resolve the national crisis of confidence, the historic Rulers’ Statement of Oct. 6 becomes a new source of national discord and division.
The government has taken more than 48 hours to craft an official response in the form of the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, who said that the probe on 1MDB must follow due process, and should not be hastened or delayed.
He said that any decree by the Conference of Rulers was viewed positively and the government had taken proactive steps to address it.
Such a statement actually says nothing, as it is the classic strategy of adopting a form of language which seems to agree with the concerns expressed by the Rulers while continuing with the directions and approaches which had given rise to the Rulers’ concerns in the first place.
The danger of the Rulers’ statement becoming a subject of national discord and division could be seen from the response of the UMNO Vice President and Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who said it was presumptuous to say the Malay Rulers have lost trust in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership when they called for transparency in investigations into 1MDB and for wrongdoers to be punished.
Hishammuddin said if the Conference of Malay Rulers believed the issue of trust should be raised, they would have said it outright instead of raising the 1MDB issue.
Hishammdudin said: “If they don’t believe in Najib’s leadership, they would have said it as it is.
“Certain parties are trying to interpret it themselves. That is speculation and assumption that is not necessary.
“You are trying to put words into the mouth of our sultans and raja-raja. That is unfair.”
I do not want to get involved in the debate whether the Rulers’ Statement was just expressing concern about 1MDB scandal and not about confidence in Najib’s leadership, or whether Hishammuddin is right in his formulation of the Malay culture of communicating in indirect and polite fashion instead of direct and straight-to-the-point manner.
But what is indisputable is that this is the first time in the nation’s history of close to six decades under six Prime Ministers that the Malay Rulers have come out with a statement expressing their concerns, and on three issues – 1MDB, the rule of law and national unity in the country.
In his statement, the Deputy Prime Minister said Putrajaya has heard the Malay Rulers’ concern.
This is the nub of the question – has the Najib government really heard and understood the Rulers’ concerns about 1MDB, the rule of law and national unity in Malaysia?
Although Zahid only came out with the official response of the Federal Government more than 48 hours after the Rulers’ statement, the UMNO leadership had not been quiet or inactive after the Rulers’ unprecedented “shock” statement.
Its first response had been quite instantaneous, when the online UMNO media virtually blacked out the Rulers’ Statement on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday, the mainstream media controlled by Umno played down the statement by the Malay rulers.
Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia carried a report on the statement on Wednesday but did not give it due importance by publishing it on page 4 of the daily.
English daily New Straits Times (NST) virtually dismissed the Rulers’ statement on page 13, with a five-paragraph extract from the Bernama report which did not include the part where the Rulers called for action to be taken against those responsible for the troubles and controversies in the Finance Ministry-owned firm, which is Najib’s brainchild.
New Straits Times must have realized that it had committed les majeste and tried to make amends the next day by publishing a fuller account of the Rulers’ Statement in its Thursday publication.
Imagine if the UMNO-controlled media can give such shabby treatment to the Rulers’ Statement, what couldn’t they do with the speeches and statements of ordinary souls – which was why DAP leaders had long accepted that we do not exist as far as the UMNO-controlled media are concerned, unless they want to demonise and defame us.
But the treatment of the UMNO-controlled media to the Rulers’ Statement was not the only UMNO response in the first 48 hours.
The responses before Zahid’s official statement, apart from the thunderous silence of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet after its weekly Wednesday meeting, include the three-pronged reactions yesterday on the 1MDB front, viz:
Firstly, the astounding statement from the Attorney-General’s Chambers that the multi-agency Special Task Force investigating 1MDB had never been dissolved or disbanded, despite a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) statement on August 5 that MACC had been advised by the new Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamad Apandi Ali that the Special Task Force which had been headed by Tan Sri Gani Patail had been disbanded. This MACC statement was never denied or contradicted by the new Attorney-General, the Prime Minister or the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of integrity Datuk Paul Low.
Secondly, the arrest yesterday of Matthias Chang, the lawyer for detained former Umno branch leader Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan, under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
Chang, a former political aide to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was detained under Section 124K and 124L of the Penal Code that deal with sabotage and attempting to sabotage the state respectively similar to Khairuddin’s detention, for whom Matthias was preparing habeas corpus application to challenge the government’s arrest of Khairuddin under Sosma.
This is clearly Najib’s response to the statement by former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin when reacting to the Rulers’ Statement, in stressing that 1MDB is not above the law and that Khairuddin should be protected and not persecuted for lodging international complaints against 1MDB.
Muhyiddin even urged more concerned citizens to lodge reports to compel the authorities to investigate the 1MDB in a transparent and fair manner.
Will all who lodge reports against 1MDB end up in the police lock-ups under Sosma, a law enacted by Parliament to deal with terrorists and not whistleblowers who want to keep the government on a straight, narrow and incorrupt path?
Thirdly, the 1MDB Statement protesting Muhyiddin’s characterisation of 1MDB as a “debt-laden company”, claiming that it is misleading. What the 1MDB CEO, Arul Kanda should realize is that nothing could be more misleading in the 1MDB scandal than the conspiracy of silence by 1MDB and Putrajaya in not disclosing whether 1MDB’s debts have now shot up from RM42 billion in March 2014 to over RM50 billion, as mentioned by Muhyiddin in his last speech as Deputy Prime Minister at the Cheras UMNO Division meeting on July 26, 2015.
Has Putrajaya heard and understood the Malay Rulers on their concerns on 1MDB, the rule of law and national unity?
Malaysians, and Malay Rulers themselves, need to be convinced that this is so, as the actions and statements of the UMNO/BN government in the 48 hours after the Malay Rulers’ Statement point to the contrary.
For a start, will Zahid as the Whip of Parliament agree that the first two days of Parliament when it reconvenes on Oct. 19 be set aside to debate the statement of the Malay Rulers and the government’s action plan?
The parliamentary debate on the Rulers’ Statement can be on a motion moved by the Prime Minister, Zahid or by the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Will Zahid give proper importance to the Rulers’ Statement by agreeing to start off the Budget meeting of Parliament on Oct. 19 with a full debate on the Rulers’ concern about 1MDB, the rule of law and national unity?