Malaysia’s Najib Razak: “We are innocent”

Partyforumseasia: After endless delays and technical maneuvers by his defense lawyers, the former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been convicted to twelve years in jail and fined 50 million US$. The corruption scandal around the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB which cost him his office and his long-term ruling party the first election defeat in sixty years, erupted already in 2015. Outside the court house, thousands of supporters reportedly cried in sorrow and disappointment, while the convict repeated his mantra in the pluralis majestatis: “WE ARE INNOCENT”. He added, like his lawyer, that they have a very strong case because the real culprit, fugitive businessman Jho Low, did all that behind Najib’s back. So it was a conspiracy, none of the seven charges in this first lawsuit against the politician could be proven, he was not aware of the millions in his personal accounts, even shocked and dismayed when he learned about it, he did not ask the Saudi royals for donations, he did nothing illegal, not even anything wrong. High Court judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali saw it differently and convicted Najib of all seven charges, proven by the prosecution “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
During the last few years, the money trail has been investigated internationally and especially in the USA, where Goldman Sachs on 24 July has agreed to a 3.9 billion $ settlement with the Malaysian government. The deal includes a $2.5 billion cash payout by Goldman and a guarantee by the bank to return at least $1.4 billion in assets linked to 1MDB bonds. The financial dimensions of this scandal are outrageous but Najib maintains his innocence.

The big question among Malaysians and regional observers is now whether Najib will manage to escape the prison sentence. The money cascade during his premiership has created dependencies and loyalties which are rekindled with the UMNO party joining the actual ruling coalition earlier this year. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin declared that he respects the court’s decision and urges all parties to “have faith in the legal system and judiciary as a free and independent institution”. That faith will be seriously at risk if Najib should manage to wriggle out of the noose. His election loss in 2018 was very much triggered by anger and disappointment of the voters about the 1MDB corruption scandal and the daily corruption they could observe around them. And it would shatter the dream of a cleaner system among the Malaysians who don’t support Najib and UMNO. Bets are welcome, with money politicians do go far in Southeast Asia.

PS: Partyforumseasia has published a number of posts on the 1MDB scandal since 2016. If interested, please check under Malaysia.

Great Expectations in Singapore



Partyforumseasia:  Great Expectations is the title of a famous novel by Charles Dickens. As in most elections, it describes as well the hopes and expectations of the competing political parties,  in Singapore the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and at least the three major opposition parties, namely the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and the newly formed Progress Singapore Party (PSP). While the PAP was asking the 2.65 m voters for a strong mandate for a strong leadership in and after the Covid-crisis, all the 10 participating opposition parties were striving for a more balanced and more pluralistic parliament to check on the PAP government.
The short campaign period showed a rather colorful competition with posters, walkabouts in markets and food courts, and canvassing in the housing estates. TV-airtime was given to all competing parties, and the print media were also reporting extensively on the opposition parties. Behind the media surface, as expected, the social media scene and blogosphere were very alive as well.
The result in terms of parliamentary seats is not really surprising, the PAP won 83 of the 93 seats. Party leader and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a press conference early on Saturday morning that he was satisfied even without the strong mandate he had hoped for. The six decades of PAP-rule have been more successful for the country than for most ruling parties worldwide. The PAP expected a 30% natural swing-vote but indeed, the electorate has matured and obviously wants more opposition. The big winner is the Worker’s Party which not only managed to retain its two-term stronghold in the Aljunied GRC with five seats but also won the new Sengkang GRC with four seats plus a single ward in Hougang. That means altogether ten mandates really won instead of the up to 12 guaranteed seats without being elected. Their strategy to warn the electorate against an “opposition wipe-out” beat the PAP call for a strong mandate.
The two remaining guaranteed opposition seats will go to the new Progress Singapore Party under veteran Tan Chen Bock, a former PAP MP and former presidential candidate. The Singapore Democratic Party managed to increase its result, especially for its president, professor Tambyah and secretary general Dr. Chee Soon Juan, but did not reach the PSP results to qualify for the two remaining “best loser or consolation mandates”.

Overview: Straits Times, 11 July 2020

Compared to the voting history of Singapore, which was characterized by years of multiple “walkovers” when the opposition did not field enough candidates, in the last few elections all the constituencies have been increasingly contested. To read the special circumstances in Singapore and the results correctly, it is necessary to bear in mind that the published results in percentage points for the different parties are calculated only for the constituencies contested, that is 93 for the PAP(=61.24%), 24 for the PSP (= 40.85%), 21 for the WP (=50.49%), 11 for the SDP(=37.04) etc. Calculated on all the 93 seats nation-wide, the opposition results cannot be compared to the 61.24% overall for the PAP, meaning that the political competition is less vibrant as it looks on the surface. But all in all, the contest was livelier than ever, even without big outdoor rallies. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was gracious enough to congratulate WP-chairman Pritam Singh in the night after the results were out and declared him leader of the opposition, a new position in the Singapore parliament and a sign of democratic consolidation. A difficult period for Singapore lies ahead when the whole impact of the pandemic on the economy becomes visible and indeed, a decisive and courageous leadership and constructive opposition will be necessary.