A New Broom Sweeps Clean – PM Najib Cleared of Corruption by New Attorney General

Najib 3

PM Najib still smiling

Partyforumseasia: Under much pressure because of a personal donation of nearly 700 million USD from an undisclosed Middle Eastern source in his private account, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia has shown remarkable cold blood. Knowing that he dominates his party UMNO practically unchallenged by lack of possible successors, he sacked a critical deputy president and the Attorney General who was daring enough to look deeper into the donation case. The replacement, Apandi Ali, closed the case on 26 January and stated that there was no evidence of corruption on the side of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, two oversight panels, the Operations Review Panel and a Special Panel, have asked the AG to explain how he came to this conclusion. The move seems to signal that the Prime Minister’s narrative is so unusual that Malaysia’s public and voters are not yet ready to close the case as readily as the new Attorney General.
In terms of his communication policy PM Najib is in line with political strategy textbooks, namely admit only what you cannot deny and admit only in thin slices. In the meantime, the source of the donation has been revealed as the Saudi royal family. According to a Reuters-based article on Channelnewsasia (Link), Najib has paid back to the donors a sum of 620 million USD. While there are no explanations about the rest of the money, the Saudi side is not confirming nor denying the transaction.”Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, during a visit to Malaysia late October 2015, did not deny when asked whether his government donated money to Najib. “Saudi and Malaysia are close allies and partners we work closely together on regional issues as well as international issues that affect Islamic world,” he said. “We coordinate our political position with regards to events in the Middle East and other places. This is something we do.”

Meanwhile, also from the political strategy textbook, Najib attacks his harshest critic and pre-predecessor Mahathir Mohamad by obviously allowing an internal party initiative  for the sacking of the latter’s son Mukhriz Mahathir from his post as chief minister of the federal state of Kedah.

This strategy may work, but the fight is not over. The Latin saying “audacter calumniare, semper aliquid haeret” means “slander boldly, something always sticks”, but nota bene: The Saudi donation saga is not just slander but a web of facts and fiction where nobody can be sure that more and more will come to light. The UMNO leadership may be backing Najib as long as he controls the financial snowball system, but the dangers for the tainted reputation of the party are lingering for too long already.
First rumors are here that Najib is preparing for a face-saving exit with guarantees of immunity. See The Diplomat on 22 January: “Will Malaysia’s Najib Finally Quit? Speculation is mounting that the embattled premier may seek a face-saving exit.” (Link)

A Rare Glimpse Into The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party

Partyforumseasia:  The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party or LPRP is one of the most secretive political parties in Southeast Asia. Flag_of_LPRP.svgBut from time to time, or every five years, a party congress elects the members of politburo and central committee, the power centers, and allows a glimpse into the internal changes. The 10th party congress which ended on 22 January, elected 78 year old Bounnhang Bunnhang 1Vorachit as secretary general. Communist and authoritarian parties tend to play it safe with experienced leaders who are not likely to rock the boat with experiments and hasty reforms. Mr Bunnhang has already been serving as prime minister (2001–2006) and as vice president since 2006. He is one of the last veterans of the revolutionary generation at the beginning of the country’s independence and close Communist co-operation with Vietnam and China.

There are interesting election results nevertheless, if not yet a real rejuvenation. Pany LaoRe-elected as number two was Ms Pany Yathotu (65), chairperson of the National Assembly and former governor of the central bank. Laos observers see her as a potential future prime minister, when the new cabinet is expected to be announced later this year. The party seems to promote a certain gender balance, more women being elected in the party committees in ministries and organizations.

Some details of the outcome (according to Vientiane Times, Link here):

“The 69-member Party Central Committee was elected on Thursday by 685 Party members, who represented 252,879 Party members …”

“The 10th Party Central Committee elected 11 Politburo members, namely: Mr Bounnhang Vorachit, Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, Ms Pany Yathotou,” (et alia)
N.B.: Outgoing party chief and president, Choummaly Sayasone (79), Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong (71) and two deputy premiers were retired.

“In his remarks at the closing ceremony of the congress, Secretary General Bounnhang Vorachit described the outcome of the congress as ‘successful as expected’. He said that all the elected members were qualified as most of them had been tested on the battlefield during the struggle for national liberation, while the rest had been tested through their work in national development and protection tasks.

“Participants also reviewed shortcomings resulting from the fact that some goals set in the resolution adopted by the 9th Congress had not been achieved, and discussed ways to address the situation.” N.B.:No details are mentioned in this article…

As one of the last few remaining communist parties in the world, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party has understood that the country is economically lagging far behind the neighbors in Southeast Asia. During a review of the constitution in December 2015, the National Assembly has confirmed that the national economy is socialist but market-oriented. “Article 13 stipulates the national economy of Laos was market-oriented economy in line with socialism directive.” (Vientiane Times, 8 December 2015, Link here)




PASUMNO maybe? Are the party leaders getting cosy?

UMNO  stands for UNITED MALAYS NATIONAL ORGANISATION, but the nation’s Malays are not as united as UMNO leaders like them to be. In fact they are divided since 1951 when Muslim clerics split from UMNO and founded Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) or Pan Malaysian Islamic Party. PAS developed into a leading opposition party with a cleaner public image than UMNO which is perceived as corrupt by many Malays, but also as the better defender of Islam. The decades of competition for the same voter pool of rural and pious Malays had a number of detrimental effects in a country with strong ethnic and religious minorities. Trying to harp on religious credentials in an era of growing international Salafism and Jihadism and the continuing attempts to introduce hudud, the harsh Muslim criminal law, had rather polarizing effects and undermined the multi-cultural concept of the country.

But as old as the PAS-UMNO rivalry are discussions about reunification:
There are weaknesses on both sides. The now defunct opposition coalition without imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim tries to resurrect as Pakatan Harapan  (or Hope Alliance, consisting of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democartic Action Party, and Parti Amanah Negara which last year splintered from PAS). The three parties just inked an agreement on ideology and dispute settlement on 9 January. And the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is losing the anaemic component parties of the Chinese and Indian minorities. This is why a rapprochement  between UMNO and PAS could be easier than ever before since the split in 1951.
The debate is on in the media and among party members. Here are some recent headlines:
(Deputy Prime Minister) “Zahid is confident of Umno-PAS compatibility” (December 26, 2015, The Malay Mail Online, Link here),
Despite decades of bad blood, PAS members ready to work with Umno“, (December 27, 2015, The Malaysian Insider, Link here),
“PAS advising BN to save Malaysia, says Hadi”, (the PAS president, December 26, 2015, The Malaysian Insider, Link here).
So far only mildly challenged by the break-away group Parti Amanah Negara in the renewed opposition coalition, the remaining more clerical “ulama faction” in PAS must nevertheless be concerned about the Malay dominance which they share as central concept with UMNO. To convince skeptics in his party, Hadi has packaged his insinuated co-operation in religious terms: “We start by advising the people in power to abandon what is wrong and do what is good, and if in the end they do not change their ways, we take over as saviours, without any rancour. (…) In defending PAS’s new advisory role, Hadi cited verses of the Quran and a few hadith, or prophetic traditions, on the importance of good counsel. “Advice is one of the words in the Quran (a miracle of knowledge) that has vast meaning, to the point that it encompasses all words and methods used to enjoin others to what is good and forbid what is bad.”
For UMNO the partnership with PAS would certainly be a safety belt of sorts, but difficult to get used to. As a Spanish proverb says, partners are also potential bosses, so PAS might be a rather uncomfortable partner for a party like UMNO that is used to rule more or less alone for 60 years.