9th March 2016
COMMENT Any prime minister in the 21st century who admits to receiving US$680 million in his personal bank account will immediately resign or be removed because it so offends public morality and good governance.
When multiple versions are given of the source of monies of that scale and magnitude, the reasons for payment to him and what happened to the money, his credibility is so destroyed that it is impossible for him to continue leading. Yet Najib Abdul Razak remains Malaysia’s prime minister nearly one year after the world discovered the unbelievably healthy state of his bank accounts.
Indeed, Najib’s decision last July to sack the deputy prime minister and attorney-general, and to intimidate hundreds of bureaucrats from discharging their duties in various governmental agencies charged with investigating the 1MDB scandal and the receipt of US$ 680 million, has had the effect of temporarily covering up the crimes committed and silencing Malaysians on pain of detention and prosecution.
A climate of fear has succeeded to a large extent, but the scandal is too deep and too huge to simply vanish as the prime minister desires.
Malaysians have been repeatedly told that replacing Najib as prime minister is improper, and that we would have to wait for the next general election scheduled for late 2018. That is utter nonsense; after all Najib himself became prime minister after Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resigned one year after leading Umno to a comfortable victory in the general election of 2008 because of pressure by the Umno warlords.
In fact, all the previous prime ministers (except Najib’s father who died in office) resigned rather than being defeated at the polls.
It is against the national interest and the public interest for Najib to remain in office. Having received so much money – indeed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal it was alleged that US$1 billion (and not US$680 million) had been credited into his personal accounts – and abusing his awesome powers to ensure that the truth never emerges, Najib has forfeited any right to hold office.
Hence, the most important objective of all Malaysians today is to work together lawfully and democratically to remove Najib as prime minister. He has no right to be our prime minister because he is unfit to hold the highest executive office in the land.
The senior leaders of Umno have formed a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around their president, protecting him and themselves. The speaker of the Dewan Rakyat has refused to permit a motion of no-confidence against the prime minister. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. Only a united front acting for the greater good of the people and nation can unseat the prime minister.
It is against this background that last week’s coalition of senior and respected politicians from numerous political parties, in collaboration with major NGOs seeking Najib’s removal must be applauded. However, cold water has been poured on the role played by the controversial former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
This criticism, whilst understandable, is misplaced. It is undisputed that as an authoritarian leader for 22 years, Dr Mahathir was singularly responsible for centralising power in the office of the prime minister and Umno presidency for his personal benefit, which a decade later, is exploited by Najib. Hence the structure and system were constructed by Dr Mahathir.
Lengthy catalogue of damage
Further, institutions of the state which were intended to be independent or impartial to act as a check and balance on the powers of the executive were gravely damaged by Dr Mahathir. The catalogue of damage done by Dr Mahathir is lengthy and long-lasting.
But they should not serve as an excuse not to utilise Dr Mahathir’s considerable political skills, acumen and clout derived from 60 years of hard politicking in Umno in attaining today’s ultimate objective: to remove Najib as prime minister.
That Dr Mahathir was one of the first public personalities to criticise 1MDB and to explain in simple terms its complex and layered financial transactions cannot be denied. What cannot also be denied is his single-minded goal of wanting Najib replaced.
Perhaps the most cogent argument that can be made to millions of Malaysians who are understandably sceptical and cynical about Dr Mahathir’s role in this endeavour is the fact that two of the savviest and most experienced of his opponents, Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim, have joined in the movement to oust Najib.
Lim Kit Siang was detained on the order of Dr Mahathir during Operation Lalang in 1987, and remained in preventive detention for two years. Anwar Ibrahim was sacked, charged and jailed for some six years on Dr Mahathir’s instructions.
Yet, each of them realises today that the national interest overrides whatever personal animosities they harbour against their former oppressor. So the average Malaysian should respond by saying that if Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim can work together with Dr Mahathir to remove Najib, so can he or she.
Tactics and strategy are essential in politics. So is identifying primary and common objectives. Permanent friends and permanent enemies do not exist in politics. Let me give two historical examples – the first in global politics and the second in national politics, and both involving Hitler.
When Hitler’s Germany invaded Stalin’s Russia in July 1941 (despite their 1939 pact) both Roosevelt and Churchill faced tremendous opposition when they suggested an alliance with Russia because of Stalin’s notoriety as a mass-murderer. Stalin had already murdered some 6 million of his countrymen in the Great Terror of the 1930’s.
Yet, Roosevelt and Churchill persuaded their countrymen that their ultimate objective was the defeat of Nazi Germany, and that Hitler was a greater threat than Stalin. Churchill was quoted as saying “I’ll even sup with the Devil to defeat Hitler”.
Secondly, the Labour Party in Britain was in a quandary whether to join a National Government with Churchill’s Conservative Party. Again wiser heads prevailed, and Attlee’s Labour Party was a loyal member of the coalition government that fought the war.
Accomplishing their momentary common goal
History vindicated both decisions. The world has been a better place in the 70 years after Hitler’s defeat. And in both cases, after the war, the coalitions broke up. The Cold War began shortly after 1945, and allies became bitter rivals.
Likewise, domestically, Labour defeated the Conservatives in the 1945 General Elections, and Atlee became the UK’s post-war prime minister. Hence, their coalitions were of a temporary nature to accomplish their momentary common goal.
Malaysians must be astute to learn the true lessons of history and politics. All of us in the millions must rally around our leaders who signed last week’s Declaration and unite to achieve our immediate objective: the need for a new prime minister.
But that is not our only goal. Indeed Paragraphs 36 and 37 of the Declaration, to which Dr Mahathir was a signatory, expressly state the need for institutional reform and the restoration of fundamental principles of governance. In this journey, Dr Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang have critical leadership roles.
A popular front cutting across political parties and affiliations enjoying bipartisan support is also vital for another reason. Because Najib has pandered to the interests of foreign powers to the detriment of our national interest, he enjoys a large measure of support from the US, China, UK, Australia, Singapore: to name a few.
A broad coalition of heavyweight and responsible politicians opposing Najib will give confidence to these countries who are obviously concerned about a post-Najib scenario.
But more significantly, a great power like the USA must be given a strong signal that identifying itself with a terribly unpopular prime minister is just not in their interests. After all, the US would not wish a repeat of the post-1979 Iranian example when the US lost all influences because of its close identification and support for the dreaded Shah of Iran.
The serious structural, systemic and institutional reforms urgently needed to get the nation back on track for which Merdeka was undertaken some 60 years ago will have to await the appointment of a new prime minister. Hence it is a question of time and priority. Absolutely no reform of any kind can take place so long as Najib and Umno are in power.
TOMMY THOMAS is a prominent lawyer specialising in corporate litigation and insolvency, and commercial and public law. He has appeared in litigation involving bonds and other sophisticated financial instruments and has dealt with administrative, labour and constitutional cases.