Phlip Rodrigues: Muhyiddin ‘on trial’ over 1MDB case (Comment, Malaysiakini)…


Muhyiddin ‘on trial’ over 1MDB case

Phlip RodriguesPublished 11:23 amModified 2:45 pm

COMMENT | When Pakatan Harapan came to power, Najib Abdul Razak was the very picture of gloom and dejection. His fall from grace marked the start of his 1MDB trial.

As the trial dragged on, the former prime minister was in the depths of despair because he had the sinking feeling that the trial was not going his way. Under the Harapan government, he was convinced that he would not receive justice.

But the grin is back on his face. He is no more sulky for obvious reason when he sat down to an interview with Reuters recently. Unlike his fractious interview with broadcaster Al Jazeera in 2018, he did not walk out.

In the Al Jazeera encounter, he accused the interviewer of being unfair to him because all the questions were about 1MDB.

Since then things have changed, and when Najib took questions from the wire service, he was in the pink of joy. He was not upset when the 1MDB trial was mentioned.

This time the disgraced Umno leader had the temerity to say he is looking forward to a more “conducive atmosphere” in his trial now that the Harapan government had fallen by the wayside.

He is implying that the Harapan government was not fair whereas the new government would not be cruel to him.

There is no mistaking what Najib meant: the coalition led by Muhyiddin Yassin is in his corner and he has nothing to fear anymore. Help will soon be on the way to extricate him from the 1MDB quagmire.

Perhaps, Najib thinks that since Umno is part of the governing class now, he can expect Muhyiddin to return a favour. “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” (“I give you the numbers to form your alliance, you help me with this difficult case”).

Of course, Najib was not involved in the deal Umno worked out with Bersatu and others to cobble together a national unity alliance. But he had been consulted on the terms of the pact, which means that he still has influence in his party.

With the wind now blowing in the opposite direction, Najib can confidently say he can expect a fair hearing. In other words, he is looking forward to an acquittal and a quick return to public service, and eventually back in the corridors of power.

So, the ball is in Muhyiddin’s court. How would he respond to the Najib case? He cannot overtly throw a lifeline to his former boss without raising a hue and cry from the unforgiving public. In fact, he cannot make any statement relating to the IMDB trial without fanning suspicion.

But Muhyiddin has to do something about this scandal which he himself had raised when he was Najib’s second in command, and for his pains, was dismissed from office. Perhaps, the route may lie in the appointment of a new attorney-general.

Muhyiddin can handpick the top legal officer who may have different ideas which may see the trial take a course more favourable to Najib. Or maybe, the court itself, aware of the changed political environment, may dismiss the whole case.

However, the executive cannot interfere with the powers of the judiciary. There is a strict separation of powers between these two branches of the government, at least on paper.

In the meantime, Muhyiddin cannot be seen too often with Najib in public. Although Najib may be eager to meet the new boss, the 1MDB scandal will always be hanging like the Sword of Damocles over their heads.

How Muhyiddin handle the 1MDB case will tell a lot about how he intends to fight corruption. Before he was booted out of Najib’s cabinet, he was very brave to stand up to his former boss. He was on the side of truth and justice.

Understandably, Muhyiddin is walking on a tightrope between having to keep his coalition intact in the face of political pressure from his demanding allies and warding off corrupt leaders from a resurgent Umno.

Muhyiddin is indeed on trial over the 1MDB case. If Najib is acquitted as a result of the “conducive atmosphere”, Muhyiddin will be harshly condemned. If his former boss is found guilty, then the country is telling to all leaders that crime does not pay.

In the final analysis, the 1MDB trial boils down to “Najib versus the people” as it involves the alleged theft of public fund. In the court of public opinion, the verdict has already been delivered: the people just want to see a former prime minister behind bars – minus the grin

PHLIP RODRIGUES is a retired journalist.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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