No More Unaccounted Stacks of Cash – The Catharsis of Malaysian Money Politics at Last?


Partyforumseasia: We use the word catharsis, as it was coined by Aristotle in his Poetics about 2,300 years ago, as the purification and purgation of emotions through dramatic art. Since politics is sometimes even more dramatic than art, big scandals might trigger a catharsis in terms of policy and legal changes as well. After the purification of emotions, in this case the widespread indignation about the infamous 1MDB financial scandal in Malaysia, legal consequences might help to purify the cancer of money politics. With a quote worth remembering, “There will be no more unaccounted “stacks of cash” by politicians once laws on political funding are in place”, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, announced the planned rather radical policy changes of the government concerning the funding of political parties and election campaigns. A Political Funding Bill is set to be tabled this October. Eradicating money politics and political corruption is a tall order, as their ubiquity in practically all political systems shows. One can only wish Malaysia good luck and success in reducing this national scourge.

Dr Wan Junaidi

Though money politics is widespread in the region, Malaysia has ruined her reputation with the disappearance of 4.5 billion US$ from her 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, which were presumably syphoned away into political pockets and the numerous cronies who surrounded the ruling parties. The scandal started to erupt in 2015 and was declared “the largest kleptocracy case to date” by the US Department of Justice. Then Prime Minister Najib Razak, in whose personal accounts 700 million US$ were detected, lost the following election in 2018 together with his job and reputation. Accused of many related offenses, especially abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering, he was convicted to twelve years in jail and a fine of nearly 50 million US$ in July 2020. Nevertheless, he remained a member of parliament and continued to be popular among his former voters. He and his political friends managed to slow down the lawsuit with several legal manoeuvres until today.

Ironically, in parallel to the announcement of a stricter party funding law, Najib and his legal team are trying these same days, as a last straw, his final appeal at the Federal Court to avoid the incarceration. So far, his and his closest allies attempts to regain power and thus have a chance to squash the sentence have failed.

Najib Razak in court

More information on the 1MDB scandal and money politics in Southeast Asia can be found in:

Frogs Out – Malaysia Bans Party Hopping


Don’t you dare hopping over to another party!

Partyforumseasia: Party hopping banned at last in Malaysia! Reforms of parliamentary rules tend to be especially difficult because they can be game changers, and for laws and rules we know by experience that not all results and consequences can be foreseen. They may influence the power structure within the house and give advantages to one of the factions, even to the opposition, which the majority group would, of course, try to prevent. On 28 July, the Malaysian parliament passed a landmark law which will ban the all-too-common habit of MPs to switch party, challenge the power balance or even change the government. The law is called Anti-Party-Hopping Law (AHL) and will prevent party and aisle switching in future. It was passed unanimously by the 209 attending members and praised by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as “a law to ensure continuous and lasting political stability”. Since 2018, the party hopping of 39 MPs, called “frogs” in the media and by the voters, had toppled the first coalition government under veteran Prime Minister Mahathir in 2020 and endangered the two subsequent governments with their fragile majority, political instability has always threatened the paper thin majority of the coalitions in power. (See our post from September 2020 on Malaysia’s “Katak”-Parliament (Katak meaning frog in Malay): Malaysia’s “Katak” Parliament | Political Party Forum Southeast Asia (partyforumseasia.org) With the rare unanimity, the legislation was passed via a series of constitutional amendments, instead of a new Parliamentary Act. It is noteworthy, though, that the consensus was due to the confidence-and-supply agreement (CSA) between government and opposition for upholding the governability of the country and prevent the premature dissolution of parliament and snap elections. According to the AHL, the “frogs” lose their seat, except MPs who are fired by their party, but en bloc defections are still possible, a tribute to the required consensus in the highly fragmented party landscape in Malaysia. An additional factor was the looming early election, due only in September 2023, which might bring UMNO back to power.

Are there any lessons to be learned from this remarkable effort to prevent party hopping in Malaysia? The first, we suggest, is the danger of instability in more and more fragmented party systems. It is a widespread development worldwide, especially in many countries in Europe. Due to electoral fairness, even not so serious small parties like “Flying Yogis” or “Motorist Parties” are registered and even co-funded with taxpayers’ money if they reach a certain percentage of votes. Traditionally dominant mass parties have lost their positions and are far from a chance to win an absolute majority like in the old days. Malaysia is a special case because of the ethnic mix of the population and race-based electoral politics which created ethnically oriented parties for more than half a century. This leads to the second lesson, the blatant lack of ideological or programmatic distinction between the competing parties. Consequently, the electability depends at the end on the attractiveness of the candidates and, even more decisive, the magnitude of their campaign budgets, which in many countries in Southeast Asia predetermine election success. The third lesson, regional but very typical in Malaysia, is the prominent role of money politics. If a seat in parliament or a leadership role in the party is also a passport to lucrative deals in government-owned companies, the monetary aspect of a candidacy becomes the dominant motive and the common weal of the country and service to the citizens, against all campaign promises, may be secondary or even less. Especially if party hopping is being rewarded by the receiving party with financial compensation, the purpose of political activity is being perverted.
With the multitude of the ongoing challenges, from pandemics, economic and trade disruption to military threats, one can only wish Malaysia more political stability.

Malaysia’s party landscape: