By Dennis Ignatius
Recent calls by the Patriots Association and others to thoroughly investigate a letter allegedly written by Hasanah Ab Hamid, the former Director-General of the Research Department (also known as ME10), to the Chief of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deserves to be taken seriously.
In a long, rambling and convoluted letter dated 4th May, Hasanah appeared to be soliciting CIA support for the Najib Administration in the event of a disputed electoral outcome.
The letter, believed to have been leaked by someone inside the current administration, could amount to an act of treason on the part of a senior government official and calls into question former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s oft-repeated claims that he had always intended to respect the outcome of the elections.
Seeking US endorsement
In her letter, Hasanah:
- reminded the US that Malaysia practises a first-past-the-post electoral system rather than proportional representation
- hinted at a possible opposition victory (“the opposition’s hopes to wrest control of the government seems a bit promising as Mahathir joined them”)
- warned that a Mahathir victory could be disastrous for US interests in the region
- emphasized that Najib, on the other hand, remains a reliable friend and ally of the US and is fully supportive of key US foreign policy objectives (North Korea, terrorism, South China Sea). Hasanah even hinted that if US endorsement for Najib was forthcoming, Malaysia would also quietly favour the US in its regional rivalry with China.
Hasanah then went on to solicit US endorsement for the Najib Administration in the event of a less than clear outcome (“even if we are to win the election by a simple majority of just one seat”) suggesting that an indication of US support could help “strengthen our stability.”
Exploring all options
What this indicates is that in the final days of the election campaign, Najib and his team had already concluded that the tide had turned against them and were exploring all their options.
The most likely scenario they were preparing for was one in which Najib massively lost the popular vote but managed to obtain a simple majority in parliament (perhaps of “just one seat,” as Hasanah mentioned in her letter). This was the same kind of scenario that many observers at the time had thought likely especially given all gerrymandering that had taken place just prior to elections being called.
What Najib’s team worried about, however, was that a failure to carry the popular vote by a credible margin might lead Mahathir and his coalition to challenge Najib’s legitimacy. In such a situation, US endorsement for Najib, and for any actions he might take to “stabilise” the situation (via the National Security Council Act, for example), could strengthen his hand.
By all counts it was a stunning climb down for a man who had previously fumed about US interference and claimed to be a great defender of race, religion and country.
That he would now go hat in hand to Washington, through the CIA no less, was a measure of the man’s mounting desperation in the early days of May.
An invitation to interference
Whichever way you look at it, inviting a foreign government to side with him in the event of an electoral impasse is a serious betrayal of trust. Though Najib has denied all knowledge of the letter, it does not seem plausible that Hasanah, who was close to Najib, would have acted on her own.
It is mind-boggling too that Najib’s officials would even believe that such a pathetic, self-serving letter could sway the US government which was already investigating Najib in connection with the 1MDB scandal. Besides, the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the CIA station chief would have surely been providing their own assessments to Washington sans the Umno-type propaganda contained in the letter.
Thus far, US officials have not responded to the swirling controversy over the letter and neither have they confirmed if the CIA chief had officially responded to Hasanah’s letter.
Revisiting a mystery
No doubt the CIA letter will now prompt observers to revisit events immediately following the May 9th elections – particularly the unexplained delay in confirming Pakatan’s victory as well as the series of raids that were carried out on several locations linked to ME10, including the residence of Hasanah herself.
At that time, speculation was rife that they were searching not just for 1MDB-related documents but for a letter, purportedly pre-signed by Najib, calling for a state of emergency in the event of a close call in the elections. The drama continues.
Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.