Najib now a pawn in a political chess game

He has the charisma in the heartlands, and can charm the people in the kampongs. That’s at least what many in UMNO believe. If, PH-UMNO are decimated in the coming state elections, then the release of Najib through a pardon will be a hot option.

Murray Hunter

Lots of speculation has once again re-emerged over a possible pardon for former prime minister Najib Razak. Najib is convicted and currently serving his 12 year jail sentence in Kajang Prison for abuse of power, money laundering, and criminal breach of trust (CBT) from the SRC International case.

This follows the recent UMNO Congress, where many of Najib’s loyal supporters demanded a pardon for him. Many within UMNO believe the party’s support for Anwar as prime minister was conditional upon pardoning Najib. Consequently, some are angry at UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, himself facing criminal charges, has not done enough to secure Najib a pardon, and selling out his former leader.

The Najib pardon saga is at the very heart of survival for the Anwar government. What is at stake is not only whether Najib can walk out of Kajang Prison a free man, but whether Anwar can remain as prime minister for the full length of his term. There have been rumours and rumblings that if Najib is not pardoned, there could be a grassroots revolt against Zahid. There is strong sentiment about Najib fanned by his children within the party.

Selective persecution of Najib?

After Mahathir Mohamed defeated Najib at the polls and became prime minister, he went on a relentless quest to put Najib behind bars. Mahathir assembled the brightest legal people to frame up charges that would convict Najib. Najib’s home was raided with the contents confiscated in the raid put on public view, in order to turn the public against him.

Many within UMNO saw this as selective persecution of Najib.

The Johor Sultan made it clear that if Najib is not freed, he should not be in jail alone.

Some look at Najib’s conviction with the conjecture that he was sent to jail when he had no legal representation in front of the court.

This is what some within UMNO believe.

Is Najib a potential asset ‘on ice’?

Anwar has been very koy about any pardon for Najib. The pardons board has not yet officially considered the case. This is a stalling tactic. We all know how quickly Anwar was released after Mahathir became prime minister in 2018. Any immediate release of Najib could cause enough havoc to bring down the Anwar government, or at least make him extremely unpopular, which Anwar would avoid at all costs.

Time needs to go by so more would accept an early release from a pardon, or other legal manoeuvre.

There is also the issue of further charges against Najib, yet to be heard in court. If Najib was pardoned now, and later convicted through the ongoing charges, a second pardon would be required to keep him out of prison.

A pardon now is not a clean solution to Najib’s woes.

However, there is a complex game behind Najib’s continued incarceration in Kajang prison. Anwar effectively holds the key to Najib’s fate, through his advice to the Pardons Board.

Anwar has to balance out the two fields of pressure. One field is those in UMNO who are demanding an immediate pardon. The other field are those who would revolt if Najib was pardoned. This is all within a sea of public opinion, that would bring immense anger and tarnish credibility.

The practical consensus is that Najib would be pardoned around five years into his sentence. That would be after August 23, 2027. This would most probably be a pardon after GE16, where there wouldn’t be too much public outrage.

However, the coming state elections may play a determining role in the timing of a pardon for Najib. If UMNO is wiped out during the state elections (and Amanah and PKR as well), then how will PH-UMNO ever be able to win enough support in GE16 to muster a return of the government? Anwar would certainly know his days as prime minister are numbered.

PKR isn’t making inroads into the Malay heartlands. Amanah may cease to exist. Zahid certainly hasn’t been able to rebuild UMNO support. So that makes Najib the last option.

The Najib option

Many believe that Najib aka Bossku can rebuild UMNO. He has the charisma in the heartlands, and can charm the people in the kampongs. That’s at least what many in UMNO believe. If, PH-UMNO are decimated in the coming state elections, then the release of Najib through a pardon will be a hot option.

Najib’s release would be for the benefit of all sitting on the government benches. Under these circumstances, Najib is a strategic asset ‘on ice’ for when, and if he is needed. Thus, any pardon and release of Najib would be for practical purposes only, rather than pressure from UMNO.

Now all this is speculation, because Anwar himself has not made any final decision.