PETALING JAYA: A political analyst has warned the government that the acquittal of Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng of corruption charges has put it at risk of losing the public’s trust.
Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya, pointing to internet users’ reactions to the Penang High Court decision, said there appeared to be anxiety over the possible development of a trust crisis.
He told FMT this was “dangerous for a government that is barely five months old”.
He noted that voices of concern were coming not only from the opposition, but also from activists and NGOs that were known to be supportive of Pakatan Harapan (PH).
“This could become a black mark for PH,” he said. “There must be an explanation or some kind of damage control done before different perceptions and interpretations lead to a backlash against the PH government.”
Judge Hadhariah Syed Ismail Awang yesterday discharged and acquitted Lim and businesswoman Phang Li Koon of related corruption charges although the prosecution had asked her to consider only a discharge not amounting to acquittal.
The decision raised concerns among NGOs like the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism and prominent individual activists such as Chandra Muzaffar.
Azman noted that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) issued a statement expressing shock at the court’s decision.
“PH needs to come up with a convincing explanation, especially when a respected enforcement body such as MACC has reacted immediately in such a manner,” he said.
“At the same time, the people need to be assured that the sanctity of the law and the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty must always be upheld. This is to prevent a trial by the public or a trial by social media.”
Lim was charged in June 2016 with using his public office to obtain gratification for himself and his wife by approving an application by Magnificent Emblem to convert agricultural land for residential purposes during a state exco meeting on July 18, 2014.
He was also charged with using his position to obtain gratification by purchasing a bungalow from Phang at below its market value.
Phang was charged with abetting him.