From MB to prisoner


Joceline Tan, The Star

DR Mohd Khir Toyo seemed drained of emotion on the day he was sentenced to one year’s jail for corruption.

His face looked pale and devoid of expression as two police officers escorted him to a white police car, the smart, grey jacket he had earlier been wearing draped over his handcuffed wrists.

There were also no tears or emotional outbursts from his family and friends. They had been prepared for the worst after the Federal Court had upheld the guilty verdict a week earlier and they knew he would be going to jail.

They wanted to be there to lend him moral support and as he was about to get into the police cart, there was a scramble among some of them to shake his hand and bid him a last goodbye.

Dr Khir’s wife, Zahrah Kechik, was equally calm as she watched her husband being driven off to begin his sentence in Kajang Prison and when pressed by reporters, she said: “I am sad but I accept it as a test from Allah”.

Then in a low voice, she said of her husband: “Semoga dia reda dan tabah” (may he submit and persevere).

This has been a terribly stressful time for his family and Dr Khir had collapsed from chest pains a few weeks ago.

The court had also ordered the forfeiture of several properties including the controversial Balinese-style villa and the family is said to have begun moving their things to a rented house in Shah Alam.

Dr Khir, as many noted, carried himself well throughout the trial. He always came to court neatly groomed and attired and he did not try to politicise the case.

It has been a long fall from grace for the former Mentri Besar of Selangor. He had been like a shooting star at the start of his political career but he had burnt out quickly and crashed in an ignominious manner.

“When they charged him back then, I had thought they caught a big fish but will he get off? When I heard he was going to jail, I didn’t know what to think,” said Juhaidi Yean Abdullah, the CEO of a private college.

He is the second Mentri Besar from Selangor to be jailed for corruption, the first being Datuk Harun Idris.

But Dr Khir had a fair trial and he hired one of the most expensive and formidable lawyers in the country.

A good friend of Dr Khir’s had phoned him a few nights before the sentencing. He had tried to console Dr Khir, telling him that this was not the end but a temporary setback and that God only gives this kind of challenges to some people.

The friend told Dr Khir that he is only 50 years old and could still make a comeback. It was a kind gesture but there is no two ways about it. It is the end of Dr Khir’s political career.

Or as a Penang lawyer put it: “His fate was sealed when he lost the Umno Youth (leadership) contest, he has been “past tense” ever since he was charged.”

Moreover, the political landscape has changed. The Selangor of today is not the Selangor that he knew as an Umno politician. There will be no comeback. Dr Khir had his chance and he blew it.

The guilty verdict, jail time and forfeiture of the properties in question will bring some closure to this troubled chapter for Dr Khir’s party. All this has also been like some kind of metaphor of Barisan Nasional’s plight in Selangor.

Dr Khir was a convenient scapegoat for Barisan’s 2008 defeat in Selangor. Barisan’s fall had taken place not long after the “broom awards” episode that saw Dr Khir handing brooms to non-performing government officials. It caused an uproar all round.

But it was what the new government dug up about his administration that caused the greatest controversy, including the infamous junket to Disneyland.

Dr Khir’s fall is hardly the first cautionary tale for Selangor politicians.

Before him, there was Datuk Seri Abu Hassan Omar who resigned abruptly after only three years in the hot seat. The official reason for his exit was his health but the reason that everyone was talking about concerned an alleged scandal involving his sister-in-law.

The irony was that Abu Hassan was brought in to replace another scandal-riddled leader Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib.

Mat Taib, as he is better known, was forced to resign after being charged in Brisbane for trying to take undeclared currency worth millions of ringgit out of Australia.

Mat Taib already had an image problem after eloping with the Selangor princess and there was no way out for him. He enjoyed a brief reprieve during Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time but has since hopped from Umno to PAS and now to PKR.

More recently, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was hounded out of office on trumped-up charges of wrongdoing by the PKR gang who wanted Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the new Mentri Besar. But the post eventually went to Azmin Ali who marked his first year as Mentri Besar last month.

In hindsight, it is little wonder that Barisan is now the opposition in Selangor given that so many of its Mentris Besar had such controversial careers.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said he is not good at choosing successors; it looks like he was equally disastrous with Mentris Besar.

Two of Selangor’s Mentris Besar (Harun and Dr Khir) have been to jail, one (Mat Taib) is still persona non-grata with the Selangor Palace, while another (Abu Hassan) stepped aside amid rumours about his family life.

The post is not jinxed as some imagine. The Selangor Mentri Besar post is like no other in the country. The state’s premier status makes the post extremely powerful and it is regarded by some to be the next most prestigious after the Prime Minister’s post.

People expect great things from the Mentri Besar, which is fine. But there are also people who want to do favours for the top man and that is when the trouble starts.

Only an upright and high-minded person can deal with the pressures and temptations that come with the post. Khalid came quite close to those virtues except that he was lacking in other areas.

Earlier this week, the Singapore media reported on the “Rules of Prudence”, a traditional missive from the Singapore Prime Minister to his government MPs after a general election.

It was a 37-point letter spelling out what is expected of the PAP MPs, from the need to be humble and upright to dos and don’ts in their professional and personal life, including not having lifestyles that will embarrass the party.

Big wins come with big expectations and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, still flushed from his landslide election victory, had released the letter to the media so that “the public knows the high standards we demand of our MPs”.

The joke over this side of the causeway was that if such rules were to be applied here, many people would definitely give politics a miss.

But one Singapore journalist joked that Lee’s big win is partly thanks to the antics of the Malaysian opposition parties. Singaporeans, he quipped, were spooked by the endless politicking they see up north ever since Malaysians voted in a big opposition, and they do not want to import the phenomenon.

An urbanised and sophisticated state like Selangor should be setting the trend for new political standards. Instead, Selangor is mired in a confusing state of politics.

“At the national level you are Pakatan Harapan, in Selangor you are still Pakatan Rakyat, your PM candidate is a prisoner and you are on the way to Putrajaya?” said Juhaidi.

But at least the Selangor government, unlike its Penang counterpart, has eased off blaming Umno and Barisan Nasional for everything that goes wrong under the sun.

Former Umno/PKR politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim blogged with his usual erudite flair that the opposition parties cannot continue to play the blame-Umno game especially if they want to win the Malay vote. Instead, they have to spell out what they intend to do about the Malay-centric policies that they are so critical of.

“The opposition must not assume that just because it is united in its choice of Prime Minister, voters will ignore its lack of credible policy initiatives in the coming general election,” said Zaid.

Dr Khir’s own blog featured a sort of goodbye letter or what he called “Notes from behind bars”. Although he continued to defend himself, it was clear that he had come to terms with what had happened in his life and has submitted to the situation.

He apologised to the people of Selangor and asked forgiveness from his family, friends and associates for the embarrassment he had caused them.

It was a humble gesture from a man who used to be one of the most powerful men in Selangor and a powerful lesson to all politicians out there.