Pawn in the game?

Much has been said about the recent controversial appointment of Latheefa Koya to head the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The premature end to Mohd Shukri Abdull’s tenure as MACC chief has also generated plenty of speculation and conjectures. There are perceptions in some quarters that he allowed his inclinations and sentiments towards a political party to influence his judgments and decisions on certain high-profile cases.

Out of respect for his request to let him retire in peace, let us not dwell too much on his record of service.

The larger controversy from the episode is the appointment of Latheefa.

It has been argued that the issue is not so much Latheefa’s suitability but more the manner in which she was appointed.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it was his personal decision to appoint Latheefa and that his decision was final. Constitutionally and legally, he has the prerogative to do so.

But the public outcry is not just about what is constitutionally or legally right. It is more about whether under the new narrative of Malaysia Baru it is politically right for Mahathir to make a unilateral and arbitrary decision on such a crucial appointment to a key law enforcement agency.

The Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Major Public Appointments has expressed deep regret that it was not consulted before Latheefa was appointed.

The Malaysian Bar also questioned the manner in which she was appointed, noting the lack of consultation with the committee set up by the government last year.

Bersih 2.0 took the view that Latheefa is an excellent choice but that her appointment was done through a flawed process.

Many have joined the fray, some saying that despite the prime minister’s right to make such a critical appointment, he does not have unfettered discretion to do so according to his wishes, whims and fancies.

There is, of course, vociferous support from various quarters and groups for Mahathir on the said appointment, and online petitions showed mixed feelings.

This only serves to show a nation very much divided on the issue of governance and leadership. Which faction constitutes the majority is of little significance. This issue comes at a critical juncture when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is struggling to regain the faith and trust it was given in the general election.

When Anwar Ibrahim urged for clarification of the appointment, Mahathir insisted that there was nothing for him to explain as it was his prerogative to make the said appointment.

A PKR Youth leader meanwhile said Latheefa’s appointment was a violation of PH’s manifesto promise, which stated that MACC would report directly to Parliament rather than to the prime minister. The manifesto also said the number of MACC commissioners would be increased with a quota for civil society. One of the commissioners will become the chairman and all commissioners will have security of tenure. It said the appointment of these commissioners must be validated democratically by Parliament.

Lim Kit Siang said the appointment is constitutionally right but politically wrong. PPBM, being Mahathir’s party, is of course in full support of Mahathir’s decision while Amanah, being the smallest component party of PH, is too beholden to the prime minister on account of many of its leaders being accorded senior Cabinet positions.

The controversy over this episode is not helpful at all for PH in its efforts to restore public confidence. It carries the seeds of division and creates further disunity within the coalition.

Latheefa’s appointment is a setback to the reform agenda of the new government.

There are now signs of fissures and fractures within PH and PKR. If not immediately addressed and satisfactorily dealt with by its leadership, the rift may widen and develop into something more serious.

It does not serve any good for some ministers to ask the public to stop questioning Mahathir over the said appointment. In Malaysia Baru, public discourse on such an important issue has to be accepted. The public cannot be silenced.

The people are left wondering what Mahathir is really up to, and whether he fully grasps the situation and understands the implications of his decision.

There are questions regarding “the sleek-headed men” who surround Mahathir. They allegedly control and manipulate Mahathir from behind for their own nefarious agendas.

So what lies ahead for the nation? What about the succession plan from Mahathir to Anwar?

Despite the shifting timeline in the planned handover of power, PH appears to have a clear transition plan. Both leaders maintain the line of unity by repeatedly stating that the premiership will pass from Mahathir to Anwar following “an agreed timeline”.

But Mahathir’s appointment of Latheefa as head of MACC has raised eyebrows. Although she was a member of Anwar’s PKR until recently, she is a fierce critic of Anwar and his family.

Observers are now casting more doubt on whether Anwar will be given the opportunity to lead the country before the next election due in 2023.

There is a general feeling of uneasiness and disquiet about the appointment of Latheefa.

Is she being used as a pawn in the game of political chess to derail Anwar’s ascendancy to the throne?

People like me who have grown to love and respect Mahathir not only as a statesman but also as a godfather wish only the best for him.

He is God’s gift to Malaysia and we want to preserve his rich legacy. We want to make sure that when the time comes for him to call it quits, he will be given the most dignified and gracious farewell befitting a man of such great stature.

We want history to see and judge Mahathir in the same breath as the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Lee Kuan Yew.

It is therefore imperative that he spends the last part of his journey building consensus and unity rather than creating discord and division in the nation.

The public certainly do not wish to be placed in a position where they are forced to choose between Mahathir and Anwar. Both are an integral part of the same political equation of Malaysia Baru.

Wan Haron Wan Hassan is a senior practising lawyer, active in civil society movements.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.