The law of rule in Malaysia

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - JAMES GIGGACHER news­room@mm­times.com

MALAYSIA’S rule of law may have reigned supreme in last week’s case of the Budgie Nine – sav­ing the South­east Asian coun­try from gross na­tional in­sult at the hands of some silly young Aus­tralians.

Too bad the same thing can’t be said about an­other na­tional dis­grace, the 1MDB fi­nan­cial scan­dal.

In the face of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the coun­try’s fail­ing sov­er­eign wealth fund, and Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak’s al­leged links to mil­lions of miss­ing dol­lars, the rule of law has in fact gone miss­ing in ac­tion.

This was cer­tainly the case when Mr Na­jib sacked the at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ab­dul Gani Patail, who planned to bring charges re­lat­ing to 1MDB against the PM in July 2015.

The plan was leaked, and Mr Ab­dul Ghani stepped down, of­fi­cially for “health rea­sons”. Per­haps he’d heard about what hap­pened to mur­dered Mon­go­lian model and a for­mer main­stay of Mr Na­jib’s in­ner cir­cle, Al­tan­tuya Shaar­ribuu.

At the same time, Mr Na­jib re­moved his deputy and one of his most vo­cal crit­ics, Muhyid­din Yassin.

The for­mer AG’s re­place­ment, Mo­hamed Apandi Ali, al­most im­me­di­ately cleared his em­bat­tled PM of any wrong­do­ing.

Mr Apandi said the royal fam­ily of Saudi Ara­bia had gifted Mr Na­jib US$681 mil­lion, of which $600 mil­lion had been re­turned. He also said no crim­i­nal of­fence had been com­mit­ted. But sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US, Switzer­land, Sin­ga­pore and the Sey­chelles, are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case.

Re­ports on the scan­dal by Malaysia’s cen­tral bank and anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion have also been dis­missed by Mr Apandi; ac­cord­ing to him the PM has no case to an­swer to.

And in June, Mr Na­jib filed court doc­u­ments that de­nied graft, mis­use of power and in­ter­fer­ence in 1MDB probes in re­sponse to a law­suit brought by for­mer PM and men­tor, and now key ad­ver­sary, Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad.

Mean­while, the al­most 700 mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion of how 2.6 bil­lion ring­git man­aged to find its way into Mr Na­jib’s per­sonal bank ac­counts has yet to be sat­is­fac­to­rily an­swered.

So much for due process, demo­cratic safe­guards, trans­parency and hold­ing those in power to ac­count. But can we ex­pect any­thing bet­ter from a Malaysia still un­der the sway of long-rul­ing coali­tion Barisan Na­sional (BN) and its lead­ing party, Mr Na­jib’s UMNO?

The dis­man­tling of ju­di­cial and state in­sti­tu­tions is not a re­cent phe­nom­e­non. As an­a­lysts have noted, the rul­ing BN has long had a poor record of abid­ing by the rule of law.

It has con­sis­tently lever­aged key na­tional laws – in­clud­ing the Peace­ful Assem­bly Act of 2012, the Sedi­tion Act of 1948, and the Print­ing Presses and Pub­li­ca­tions Act of 1948 – to cur­tail free­doms, assem­bly and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion, as well as in­ti­mate ac­tivists and the me­dia, to en­sure its power.

Th­ese tac­tics guar­an­tee the rul­ing coali­tion’s stran­gle­hold over Malaysia’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem “in di­rect vi­o­la­tion of Ar­ti­cle 10 of the fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion in Malaysia”. Ar­ti­cle 10 is meant to guar­an­tee Malaysian ci­ti­zens the right to free­dom of speech, free­dom of assem­bly and free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion.

An em­bat­tled Mr Na­jib has only sharp­ened the teeth of a le­gal sys­tem al­ready heav­ily stacked in his party’s favour. In Au­gust he brought in an un­prece­dented law that al­lows him to des­ig­nate “se­cu­rity ar­eas” and de­ploy forces to search peo­ple, places and ve­hi­cles with­out a war­rant. Dra­co­nian would be an un­der­state­ment.

Laurent Meil­lan, from the UN Hu­man Rights Of­fice for South­east Asia, said they were “gravely con­cerned” about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions as a con­se­quence of the act. The act could fur­ther re­strict al­ready highly lim­ited rights of free speech and free assem­bly.

And in March, the in­de­pen­dent on­line news site The Malaysian In­sider went off­line. Own­ers cited poor fi­nan­cial re­turns and high costs. But then-ed­i­tor Ja­habar Sadiq said it was be­cause the threat of be­ing charged with sedi­tion that could lead to jail time had be­come all too real.

The de­ci­sion to pull the plug came al­most three weeks after Malaysia’s in­ter­net reg­u­la­tor – the Malaysian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Mul­ti­me­dia Com­mis­sion – is­sued a gag or­der on the site be­cause of a re­port al­leg­ing the coun­try’s anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion had suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to bring crim­i­nal charges against Mr Na­jib in the 1MDB case – even though he had al­ready been cleared by Mr Apandi.

The les­son? Smug­gling bud­gies and smear­ing the flag is a clear no-no. Smug­gling bil­lions and smear­ing the na­tion’s sov­er­eign wealth fund is a-OK.

It all goes to show that in Malaysia there is the rule of law – but most of the time there’s the law that lets BN rule. – New Man­dala

James Giggacher is an as­so­ciate lec­turer in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pa­cific Af­fairs and ed­i­tor of New Man­dala, a spe­cial­ist web­site on South­east Asia’s pol­i­tics and so­ci­eties.

Photo: EPA

Riot po­lice stand guard as they try to dis­perse sup­port­ers of Malaysian op­po­si­tion leader An­war Ibrahim out­side the Palace of Jus­tice in Pu­tra­jaya, Malaysia, on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2015.

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