Both sides of Malaysia’s political divide unhappy with Najib’s reduced sentence

The seething unhappiness from both sides has damaged the standing of the Anwar administration, analysts say.

Azril Annuar

Azril Annuar

The Straits Times


February 5, 2024

KUALA LUMPUR – Umno leaders said on Feb 3 that they will continue to push for former Malaysian premier Najib Razak to be released from prison, while his family has said it was “disappointed” that he did not receive a full pardon and immediate release.

Civil society groups, opposition parties and even some of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s own supporters have taken the opposite stance, following the news on Feb 2 that the Pardons Board had halved Najib’s jail term to six years and cut the fine he must pay to RM50 million (S$14.1 million), from the court-ordered RM210 million.

The board was led by the former king, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, who ended his reign on Jan 30 under Malaysia’s five-year rotational monarchy.

But Datuk Seri Anwar is being savaged by his critics, despite him saying the decision was “beyond” his or the government’s control.

In short, no one is happy.

“A very unsatisfactory decision by the Pardons Board for all sides – be they for Najib’s imprisonment or against it,” former Cabinet minister and former Najib lawyer Zaid Ibrahim told reporters on Feb 3.

“This is what happens when the government of the day wants to try to appease everyone – no one is happy.”

Both camps in the roiling debate are organising public petitions.

Top Umno leader Lokman Adam told reporters on Feb 3 that the party will start a nationwide petition in a few days to request a full pardon for Najib from the new Malaysian King, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar.

Meanwhile, an online petition on to cancel the Pardons Board decision was started on Feb 3 by someone who signed off as Open Mind, gathering nearly 10,000 signatures at 10pm.

The seething unhappiness from both sides has damaged the standing of the Anwar administration, analysts say.

Some anger has also been directed at Malaysia’s royal institution for what appears to be a nonchalant setting aside of the sentence meted out by the High Court and upheld by the Appeals Court and the apex Federal Court in a legal process that took four years.

Fuelling discontent is how the Pardons Board granted Najib an “early hearing” although he has served just 17 months of his jail term, while there are other convicts who have waited for years and never received a hearing.

Najib had applied for a royal pardon in September 2022, on the basis that he did not receive a fair trial.

The board said it had decided “after weighing opinion and advice”, but did not elaborate.

Najib was first convicted in July 2020 for graft linked to RM42 million from SRC International, a former subsidiary of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He is still facing trial for other crimes, including four counts of abuse of power to receive gratification and 21 counts of money laundering.

Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, a leader of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, said on Feb 2 that the government must be ready to explain to the country why Najib was given a reduction in sentence and fine.

But Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said Mr Anwar’s hands are tied when it comes to disclosing the board’s proceedings, which are classified as official secrets.

“He may be bound by the Official Secrets Act not to reveal the discussion. Institutionally, it is not his prerogative to make such explanations. Constitutionally, it is indeed the prerogative of the King to pardon or not, even against the advice of the Pardons Board,” said Dr Oh.

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