From Zaid Ibrahim
The Federal Court decision that saw the incarceration of Najib Razak last week is possibly the most talked about judicial event in Malaysia’s legal history.
To me especially, the former prime minister’s jailing was a significant low point for our country. I am truly saddened by it.
I am saddened for Najib because I believe he did not get a fair trial. Justice was denied to him.
I am saddened that this Malay leader who tried to steer Umno and the country away from 23 years of Mahathirian rule had to pay such a heavy price.
Najib’s generosity to the poor was branded bribery of the populace, while his 1Malaysia model was pushed back by the right-wing thinking of Mahathirism in Umno.
I am also saddened for our beloved country.
So many questions about the 1MDB saga have been left unanswered, yet, somehow, it seems our politicians are keen to close the book on it.
For instance, where is the supposed mastermind of the heist, Jho Low, and his protégé and former SRC International CEO, Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, both of whom had massive roles in the scandal?
It has also been proven that 1MDB money was paid to ex-minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop and Tawfik Ayman, the husband of former Bank Negara governor, Zeti Akhtar Aziz.
A much longer list of beneficiaries of ill-gotten gains from 1MDB is being kept by the US justice department. Why have their identities not been disclosed?
How much have these persons received and what efforts have been taken to recover these amounts? Why have they not been brought to justice?
Even as regards Najib’s case, many questions are left unanswered.
Can the attorney-general and the MACC explain what happened to the investigation into Justice Nazlan Ghazali? Until today, neither has confirmed whether the report leaked on the internet earlier this month is authentic.
In hindsight, I would say that this unfortunate state of events has been a long time coming. The 1MDB saga has exposed deep divisions that now exist among the races that make up our beautiful country.
A large segment of the non-Malay community sees 1MDB as a massive heist by a Malay leader. These Malaysians decided long before any court pronouncement that Najib was guilty by virtue of the scale and extent of the theft.
But the Malays, especially Umno members, know that 1MDB is not just about Najib. They see enough evidence of other players involved, but these persons have not been charged. They also see selective prosecution and political persecution at play.
They claim restrictions placed by the courts on Najib and his lawyers amount to a miscarriage of justice and are now calling for a reform of the criminal justice system.
At the other extreme are those who, for their own selfish reasons, relish Najib’s incarceration and are happy to accept his jailing as the end of the matter. They do not even want to talk about it. They are prepared to accept the flaws in our justice system.
In reality, however, the 1MDB case has exposed deep institutional failures in our country. Malaysia today is a far cry from the country which won its independence 65 years ago.
One of my favourite childhood memories was hearing Tunku Abdul Rahman’s “Merdeka” cry over the radio. It was not even a radio my family owned. It blared from a Chinese coffee shop nearby.
It was February 1956. Tunku was making that historic announcement in Melaka that Malaya would gain its independence the following year. It was a special day for us even as far away as in Kota Bharu.
Merdeka then meant that we would soon be free of foreign rule, but that was not all. Merdeka also meant that we now had the freedom to build this nation into a great one, with peace, harmony and prosperity to be shared by all.
We achieved Merdeka because we were willing to submerge narrow sectarian politics and unite to form one big family – a melting pot of races, religions and ethnic groups – seeking to build a happy country.
As Tunku said then, his dream was not to make Malaya rich but to make Malayans happy.
Today, Tunku’s dream, which became the dream of all Malaysians, is in tatters. Why?
Firstly, because we have abandoned consensus politics, where problems – no matter how big they were – could be resolved through honest, serious and meaningful discussions.
In its place we have allowed our own ideologies, bigotry and prejudices to take root in the name of politics. Partisan politics has divided this nation.
Secondly, we are in tatters because the bedrock of this nation, Umno, has strayed from the noble path set for it by Tunku, which was to be the cornerstone of our nation-building.
Instead, Umno has adopted “Ketuanan Melayu”, an obnoxious concept which has seen Malays brainwashed into thinking they are a special and entitled race with superior rights.
Segments of the community now believe they can abuse their special privileges and their dominance in government to the detriment of the non-Malays. Understandably, this has aroused anger.
As if that was not enough, under Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule, we saw massive political interference in our institutions, particularly the judiciary.
This began during his Umno days when he held the post of prime minister and continued when he took office again in 2018 under Pakatan Harapan’s rule. Good governance was thrown out the window.
As a consequence, non-Malays became disenfranchised, isolated and felt unwanted, and eventually their support gravitated to the opposition. They launched attacks on Malays, branding Umno a party of racists and kleptocrats. Naturally, the Malays in Umno have responded in equal fashion.
This is where we are today.
There is no dialogue, no discussion and no consensus. All that is left is the politics of hatred.
This cannot go on. It is time for a reboot.
Malaysians must learn the real meaning of the Merdeka consensus and restore mutual trust in the political sphere. Together, we have to bring about an environment that is conducive to peaceful engagement.
This is not easy to do after so many years of division, but there is no other choice.
We have a massive task ahead to restore the integrity of our institutions, reset our economy and improve our education system.
We need to rekindle friendships and mutual reliance among races, so that we can recover and utilise our inherent strength in diversity.
Nation-building requires a sustained effort. The true spirit of Merdeka impels each of us to forgo our prejudices and short-term political gains.
We must instead work together on a meaningful long-term political reform to revitalise our beloved country.
Can we do this together?
Selamat Hari Merdeka to all Malaysians!
Zaid Ibrahim is a former federal minister.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.