AUGUST 25 — It’s the second day our sixth prime minister wakes up in prison.
For Malaysians, on either side of the political equation, it’s surreal. A sense of incredulity pervades the space.
Not dissimilar to the one probably felt by the French crowd gathered to witness King Louis XVI’s execution on January 21, 1793 — they see the head being lopped off, but is it possible they ask? Ours was not a cold Paris winter morning — rather a balmy Putrajaya afternoon — but a guillotine-like force severed our reality. Malaysians are not used to seeing elites crushed.
A country was forced to stand up — bewildered, enraged or rapturously overjoyed — to the news an actual former leader of the country has been sent to Kajang Prison. It’s been talked about for years, but hardly anyone could imagine him behind a locked door. He is now. Wow.
What now? Before that, the reactions.
He has fallen
Expectedly, Najib Razak’s family and party faithful — not the least Umno president Zahid Hamidi who spared time from his own trials to extend solidarity— have expressed outrage and a commitment to free their man.
They do not vigorously contest the prosecution’s success, only the motives and bias of those involved — a subplot to persist in their supporters’ lamentations. Pakatan and Perikatan Nasional leaders have not held back their glee. Both leaderships, though clearly the former more viscerally than the latter, suffered from Najib’s actions in power.
As a corollary, the political battles in and out of an unbalanced Dewan Rakyat have just intensified.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is caught in a landmine, to stave off his party leaders and indeed to extend his short tenure he insists the law must carry on unimpeded.
The rakyat, well the anti-Najib squad, have had quite the 48 hours.
Yet, I would not wish prison on anyone. Every incarcerated person is destroyed to a degree. However, this is about choices, and without an alternative to address the issue at hand, one chooses to support this transgressor’s imprisonment.
Still, one does not need to gloat about it.
Akin to parents who ground their abusive and cruel child to a severe number of days. It was necessary, it sends the message the behaviour is unacceptable, cautions him and other siblings and underlines there are rules in place.
But that does not mean the parents open a champagne bottle to celebrate their child’s pain in a locked room.
Anecdotes are obviously self-serving and therefore require contextual comparisons. This was a very naughty child, proud and belligerent, and went to town to celebrate his insolence. Other children were victimised through that spell. There are many, many other children.
Next correction, and then the next
It took effort to complete the prosecution of Najib Razak. If corruption, abuse of power and poor governance are the higher goals, and Najib is part of that process to correct Malaysia then it is not enough to stop here.
Four more cases are outstanding for Najib, and Zahid Hamidi has 47 charges to dodge. The LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) scandal is only taking shape even if it was 10 years in the making. If 1MDB required seven years after the US Justice Department issued actions against it, how much longer for the facts of the LCS to see the light of day? In 2015 most of Malaysia could not decipher 1MDB. Frankly, today only a sliver comprehends the scandal’s details even if a vast majority are aware large amounts of public money went missing.
It took a long time to spread the information to the masses enough for an adequate reaction. The Najib decision crosses a tipping point, from now on information on mismanagement by the powerful would be considered more by the public.
But that information must be made available in the simplest and direct form for broader consumption.
Malaysia is medium, in size, population and income. It seeks its place in the world through the upliftment of its people.
It can grow exponentially or get stuck in the mud. The only answer resides in our institutions — our courts, legislative chambers and the executive.
Strengthen our institutions and pursue justice rather than vengeance.
Developing countries since post-world war have tripped in their over-exertions to punish errant leaders they are obsessed with rather than correct the system in order to ensure there are fewer repeats.
It’s the institutions not the sight of the mighty fallen which ensure countries’ long-term democratic aspirations are met. Do not settle old scores, for at the end you mirror your enemy.
Be careful, if this advice goes unheeded the Bossku crowd will reconverge.
His corner regroups now, and they will repeat what they have always used.
Najib’s opponents won an election and then went all out in order to hurt him.
This is a critical time for responsible Malaysians to stay the course and not turn the path to justice into a power melee.
The opponents of justice claim there is no justice, just sides who utilise the laws to put one over their political rivals. This is how they justify their lack of integrity and consistency.
Do not let them build the argument. Do not let them turn Najib into a symbol of resistance, a martyr for the right wing.
The next weeks in domestic politics would be about what is made of Najib’ imprisonment. This also shapes whether elections are at year end or in 2023. This decides the long-term health of our democracy.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.