APRIL 13 — What would the rakyat do if he is released prematurely?

A substantial number of Malaysians spent a better part of 10 years to raise awareness and champion the successful prosecution of former prime minister Najib Razak. They won after great sacrifices.

He has been incarcerated for seven months now.

An effort is underway to give him a pardon.


The cost-benefit analysis to a pardon decision holds a whole government hostage as it increasingly appears a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Yet, the hullabaloo over Najib sheds light on our fragile present.

Pardon the paradoxical permutations


A straight answer is elusive. It is a triangle of the executive, the Pardons Board and the Agong.

Our Constitution’s Article 42 is solely about pardons and covers extensively the roles and processes with persistent caveats that those decisions are subject to advisories and considerations by committee.

So, the persistent suggestion the decision rests squarely on the monarch rather than on political interests is both naïve and misleads.

Constitutions by their very nature allow for healthy ambiguities in which the best minds of each passing generation sit and argue.

Obviously, those debates fascinate. But to oversimplify them to absolutes and rely on the complexities to reduce the ownership of the decision from any one reeks of political cover.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth.

Without political push, pardons for politicians are not accelerated or even processed.

Anwar Ibrahim was arrested in 1998 and never saw a day out of prison until September 2004. The political realities then did not permit the possibility of a pardon.

Anwar was convicted again in 2014 and served his sentence until 2018. The political realities of 2014 to 2018 did not permit the possibility of a pardon.

In May, 2018, a coalition with his party PKR’s 50 seats formed government. Anwar had still a month to complete his sentence.

The political realities of 2018 post-government change processed his pardon inside a week. The political realities then permitted a pardon.

Najib was convicted in August 2022. The Perikatan Nasional government then under Ismail Sabri Yaakob continued to govern until November 2022. With Bersatu part of his government, the political realities did not permit the possibility of a pardon.

Anwar replaced Ismail Sabri as prime minister late last year with Umno’s assistance. The political realities now permit the possibility of a pardon.

The Najib pardon scenario relies heavily on political support. Anyone saying otherwise is pulling the wool over the nation’s collective eyes.

It’s obvious many in the corridor of power desire this, otherwise it won’t merit the discussion.

The Najib pardon scenario relies heavily on political support. Anyone saying otherwise is pulling the wool over the nation’s collective eyes. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The Najib pardon scenario relies heavily on political support. Anyone saying otherwise is pulling the wool over the nation’s collective eyes. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

All quiet on the Pakatan front

Through 2015 to 2018, Pakatan Harapan politicians could not shut up about 1MDB.

There were camel jokes, whale jokes, fat Penang boy who does not want to return to the island cause he is busy partying with the rich and famous jokes and of course, Arab passion to donate jokes.

They filled up whole rally speeches. It is the rakyat’s money and 1MDB is about the rakyat they shouted, and the speakers intended to be elected so they can go after those behind the mother of all scandals.

And here they are, the various Pakatan MPs — Gobind Singh, Nga Kor Ming and Rafizi Ramli for instance — gone silent on the Najib pardon efforts. Should they not speak up and insist that he should serve his sentence to underline the gravity of the issue?

The self-imposed gag among Pakatan MPs and politicians is palpable and reflects the ugly side of the wholehearted all-in attitude to work at all levels with Umno and to realise the unity government’s secretariat.

It means they let go of previous struggles for current gains.

The only Pakatan MP, ironically from Anwar’s PKR, Batu Pahat’s Hassan Abdul Karim has urged a rethink on the Najib pardon effort.

How did he end up the unitary voice of Opposition in a coalition built to oppose injustice?

A whale of a scandal

It went on for years. It dragged in Martin Scorsese, Leonardo Di Caprio and the Golden Globes.

It went on yachts, parties with the glamorous like Paris Hilton and the who’s who of Hollywood.

It went to the US Courts via the US Justice Department initiating investigations.

It went into investigations in at least six countries, including the United States, Singapore, Australia and Switzerland.

It went into the billions and left the Malaysian taxpayers with a bill to settle over the decades to come.

It was 1MDB. The SRC corruption is part of the whole tangled web of 1MDB’s deceit, lies and theft.

To then reduce this conviction to a small error of judgement, one minor indiscretion insults the collective intelligence of all Malaysians. The whole fiasco was diligently executed with layers of malice and absolute contempt for those who suffer.

Hassan Minhaj’s hit show Patriot Act on Netflix has a whole episode on it for a global audience, that’s how big it was.

In case it has passed notice, Najib was 1MDB’s chairman. As a reminder, just watch the clip again.

The prosecution was a mountain to scale as it is with modern financial cases when it is difficult to link acts with people when paper trails are longer than giant rivers.

Somehow, they managed to get the prized conviction.

He has been in prison for less than a year and they want to consider a pardon.

Why bother fighting for justice when the mischievous are forgiven in record time?

Clemency is for the contrite

A teacher told me years ago, if you want to be forgiven you must ask for it. You must exhibit remorse and apologise, she said.

However, she reminded me it is human to forgive, even the vilest of acts.

Can anyone please point out the moment Najib apologised to the Malaysian people?

Malaysians have seen him ride bikes, lift weights and eat his chocolates but nowhere in his vast and colourful collection of videos has the sixth prime minister submitted himself to the rakyat and said he is sorry.

While the pardons process is complex and legal, please do indulge the plain-speaking Malaysians who may lack the comprehension of complexities or fail to be erudite about the law. But they ask, are apologies from the mighty beyond the rakyat to expect?

Timing and Zahid

While a Najib apology is unlikely, a Najib release is equally unlikely before the six state elections are completed in midyear.

Neither Pakatan nor Umno want Najib to be a campaign distraction.

The talk about Najib’s release also test the waters. On how much the Malaysian public is willing to forgive in order to let the present unity government operate without the fear of PAS-dominated Perikatan Nasional (PN) to usurp the current progressive set-up.

Which leads to a discussion about Deputy Prime Minister and Umno President Zahid Hamidi. His corruption cases are coming to a close and manoeuvres may be necessary to rationalise his situation.

If Zahid is vital to the survival of the unity government, can public sentiments be placated? To know that, they have to see how Najib’s situation plays out in the court of public perception.

There’s a secondary game in play to read the mood of the people.

Freer than free

Prison is not fun. The pain of the Najib family is real. First-class flyers are not exempt from feeling longing and abandonment.

It is not unusual for national leaders to be pardoned for crimes when in office. From Nixon to pick any Korean president in the past 20 years.

But none of them participated in a scandal with the depth, scale and recklessness as 1MDB.

There should be no easy path to reconciliation over this conviction.

No man or family is above the country, its people. To reconcile, to initiate the process, the man has to come to terms with his acts.

The prime minister has to understand that to act ahead of public sentiment on this may end up giving his administration a black eye.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.