Pardoning Najib: Facts vs Emotions

13 Apr 2023 11:50am
Najib Razak on August 23, 2022. (Sinar Archive)
Najib Razak on August 23, 2022. (Sinar Archive)

Politics consists of two distinct types of individuals: realists and idealists.

The petition for pardon filed by Datuk Seri Najib Razak and supported by Umno leaders at all 191 divisions has become a competition not between parties, but between these two groups of people who are invested in Malaysian politics. In addition, court cases against Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi have also been delayed due to the Attorney General's discretionary power to dismiss his 47 charges, further bringing the unity government into these unwanted folds.

For idealists, as is well understood and acknowledged, most notably by the Pasir Gudang MP, either one or both cases could very well impede the ostensible reform agenda of Pakatan Harapan and particularly Parti Keadilan Rakyat. After fighting for justice and transparency for more than two decades, including the last six years specifically against the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, it is inconceivable that this PH-led unity government would support such efforts to free Najib and to give politicians tainted by graft charges a new lease on their career.

Obviously, it is not the government per se that is pressing for these outcomes, but the explanation and optics would affect support and, more dangerously, trust in the current government that has been accused of making questionable deals to be in power. It is accurate that all documentation was completed legally.

However, political pressure is difficult to observe and quantify behind closed doors. Without a distinct function for the attorney general and a public prosecutor, it will always be assumed that the government has a hand in whatever decisions are made.

To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how the outcome of the pardon board, in particular, could have a positive effect on the government.

If Najib is not granted clemency, the opposition will likely accuse the PH government of meddling out of spite, and Umno supporters will likely doubt their party's support for the unity government. But if a pardon is granted, the situation would be worse because PH would likely lose the support of reform advocates, and the opposition would again accuse it of interfering to prevent the unity government from experiencing Sheraton 2.0.

However, according to pragmatists within PH, Najib's release would bolster the morale of Umno supporters, who view Najib as a good leader, given that he provided aid and pushed for development as prime minister. His aura as "Bossku" was undoubtedly a factor in Umno's victory in the previous state elections in Melaka and Johor.

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With him behind bars, Umno faltered and suffered its worst defeat in November 2022. The pragmatists view Najib as the man who could mobilise voters for the forthcoming state elections, thereby relegating the legitimacy of this unity government to the background and allowing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to lead the country towards a progressive nation-state.

Unfortunately, it is not so straightforward.

Umno and PH have a productive relationship because they do not compete for the same electorate. Umno and PN, on the other hand, will compete for the hearts, minds, and ballots of rural and semi-urban Malays. During the 15th general election, Malays overwhelmingly chose PN over Umno due to the coalition's campaign for being a “clean” political entity.

Politics is rarely about facts; emotions dominate.

If Najib is released, it would embolden PN to continue its narrative of a corrupt Umno that interferes with the judiciary for the benefit of a single individual over the nation as a whole. It would enable PN to produce more content on TikTok to portray itself as corrupt-free, given its unwavering opposition to Najib Razak.

Make no mistake – after Nov 19, PN was just as willing as PH to collaborate with Umno if it meant leading the government. This is politics after all. But luckily for being in opposition, PN can now claim to be steadfast in its fight against corruption.

If PN and PH are pragmatic, it is the Umno supporters who are still idealistic in their belief that our former prime minister was wrongfully imprisoned, despite the fact that all but one judge have found him culpable for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering. In fact, the sole dissenting judgment was based on technicality.

Members of Umno, both pragmatists and idealists, must recognise that it is time for the party to move forward and find a means to win back Malay votes by focusing on their wants and needs. Resurrecting Najib will only diminish the party's capacity to compete with PN and it makes for a very bad political strategy.

Syaza Shukri, PhD is an assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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