Will Najib be a free man soon?

Dennis Ignatius

While all eyes are on the so-called Dubai Move, something of far greater significance might be about to take place – a pardon for disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak. The campaign to free him – pushed by UMNO and tacitly supported by others in the Unity Government – has been gathering pace for some time now and could reach a final stage in the next couple of weeks.

If it happens, all the remaining cases against him would also have to be withdrawn. They won’t go to all the trouble of pushing for a pardon if he might face another conviction. What his supporters are demanding is a clean slate for the former PM.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim gave up the Federal Territories portfolio in last month’s cabinet reshuffle so he will not be sitting on the pardons board to consider Najib’s pardon. Whatever happens, he can now conveniently claim that he had nothing to do with it.

Many Malaysians are, of course, baffled why anyone would push for a pardon for someone who was found guilty of breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and a fine of RM210 million and remains unrepentant to boot. But of course, in Malaysia such things can easily be dismissed as inconvenient facts especially when other agendas come into play.

Najib is still seen as a popular figure who can perhaps revive UMNO’s fading fortunes and more importantly bring back the Malay vote which Anwar so desperately needs. Anwar knows that his dependence on the DAP to prop him up is his Achilles heel; winning Malay support is a must if he is to stave off challenges from the Malay right.

If a pardon happens, it will certainly be a watershed event in Malaysian history. Giving Zahid Hamidi a DNAA was bad enough; a pardon for Najib might well cement the reputation of this government as one utterly bereft of principle, integrity and honour. The international community and foreign investors too will lose respect for Malaysia’s legal system.

A pardon for Najib, coming on the heels of Zahid’s DNAA, will also erase just about the only good thing that the first Pakatan Harapan administration accomplished. And this during the tenure of a PH leader who vowed to make the fight against corruption the centrepiece of his administration.

If Anwar is willing to go to such lengths as to contemplate the unthinkable, it would indicate that he is really worried about his political future.

Some observers think that Anwar will lose the non-Malay vote if Najib is pardoned. But it may well be that Anwar has already done the math and is confident that they will mumble and grumble for a while and then go back to catatonically repeating that inane mantra about giving Anwar the time and space to do his job.