The sudden arrest and prosecution of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has caused an uproar among supporters of the opposition. The corruption charges brought against Guan Eng were the culmination of months of cat and mouse games over his purchase of a bungalow. It’s one of the biggest MACC arrests to date.
The manner in which Guan Eng was arrested – by no less than a tactical squad moving into a building as if to apprehend an armed criminal – has raised hackles and eyebrows. It is seen as an uncalled for show of force by the Barisan Nasional government against the opposition.
It is hard to deny that the way Guan Eng was whisked away from his office was oppressive, and perhaps intended to give the impression to the public that his crime was totally abominable, though months of back-and-forth accusations and investigations have yielded nothing but a slightly fishy smell, as opposed to the rotting compost heap that would be found if some other politicians were investigated.
The Penang state government has been declared one of the cleanest administrations in Malaysia, and for its head to be arrested over corruption charges is indeed shocking. But all this is happening against the narrative that GE14 is looming and that BN and Prime Minister Najib Razak are more confident than ever before of their mandate, having shown total mastery of the tools left behind by Mahathir Mohamad.
Some fear this is the beginning of another Ops Lalang, but with the general election so close at hand, Najib surely wants a more positive public image than that, and this move is very likely just another piece falling into place in the run up to GE14.
The big question is: What kind of impact will this have on GE14? DAP does command a strong following among the Chinese and it has been emboldened by its success in Penang, but also by the confrontational in-your-face political tactics of some of its leading names, including Guan Eng. Poking the hornet’s nest just as Chinese support was beginning to return to BN – as some say the recent by-elections have shown – does not seem like the wisest tactic to employ given the uneasy relationship between BN’s Chinese party, MCA, and the Chinese community in general.
Malaysians will be watching this trial closely indeed. Attorney-General Apandi Ali, who leads the prosecution, will have to prove to the public, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Guan Eng was indeed corrupt, especially since many are sceptical of every move the ruling government makes. Without a smoking gun, without concrete proof, there is no way a guilty verdict will be accepted by the supporters of the opposition, and perhaps even by some who sit on the fence.
One wrong move, and Guan Eng becomes a martyr. That would be the worst possible outcome from whatever gambit is at play here. Martyrdom will only expand Guan Eng’s legend and further entrench anti-BN sentiment among followers of the opposition.
But then again, Guan Eng could indeed be guilty, and we are simply letting our biases colour our perception here. But who can blame disbelieving Malaysians when it seems like the government will go to any length to stay in power?