UMNO Move to Back Former Malaysia PM Jailed Najib Razak May Make Party Stronger

UMNO Move to Back Former Malaysia PM Jailed Najib Razak May Make Party Stronger.lelemuku.com.jpg

KUALA LUMPUR, LELEMUKU.COM - The president of Malaysia’s ruling party said Wednesday it would continue to back incarcerated senior leader and former Prime Minister Najib Razak, a move that may make it stronger ahead of the next general election, according to analysts.

In the United Malays National Organization’s first statement since the country’s highest court sent Najib to prison for 12 years on Tuesday, party President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi alleged that the former PM was not given a fair chance to defend himself against corruption charges with supposed new evidence.

UMNO “will forever remain with [Najib] in his other trials,” Zahid said, referring to other ongoing cases that Najib is facing in connection with the 1MDB financial scandal.

The party can exploit the line that Najib didn’t get a fair hearing in his appeal before the highest Federal Court, suggested Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow with the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, a think-tank in Selangor.

UMNO “can now use the narrative that Najib was not given the fairest process to defend himself. I believe it will make UMNO even stronger, contrary to popular belief that UMNO will become weak without Najib,” Azmi told BenarNews.

“This is the narrative they are trying to sell, trying to use … in order to gain sympathy from voters,” he said, adding that he believes it could be a very effective strategy.

Furthermore, Najib has tens of thousands of supporters and UMNO backing him would help retain grassroots support for the party in the next election, indicated analyst Oh Ei Sun.

Supporting Najib “would buttress support for UMNO from among Najib’s ardent supporters who are apparently quite considerable in their numbers as well,” Oh told Channel News Asia.

However, he did add that UMNO distancing itself from Najib might have won over some fence-sitters and brought about “a refreshed image for UMNO,” whose president Zahid, too, is standing trial on 47 corruption charges.

On Tuesday, the Federal Court upheld Najib’s conviction and 12-year prison sentence for the alleged misappropriation of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $9.67 million) from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB, making him the first former or current Malaysian prime minister to serve a jail term.

Najib ‘brought shame’ to Malaysia

Meanwhile, two groups on Wednesday lodged contrasting petitions with the palace over the possibility of Najib applying for a royal pardon so he wouldn’t have to serve his decade-plus sentence or pay the ordered 210 million ringgit ($49.3 million) fine.

A group of around 300 Najib supporters gathered outside the palace to submit a petition to palace officials, which requested the king to pardon Najib.

“I would like to request for a full pardon to be given immediately to this person who has served honorably,” Syed Mohammad Imran Syed Abdul Aziz, the president of the group Pertubuhan Jalinan Perpaduan Negara Malaysia, which organized the gathering, told the media, the Reuters news agency reported.

“His service and contributions have been torn apart in a humiliating way,” added Syed, who is an UMNO member.

He also said the application for a royal pardon must come from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a senior UMNO member. If the PM does not submit such an application, Syed urged Zahid to withdraw support to UMNO’s own government, which would lead to snap polls.

An UMNO faction supported by Zahid has been pushing for snap polls, while the PM, who holds the number 3 position in the party has been resisting such calls. These positions may have changed since Tuesday’s verdict, analysts said.

Elsewhere, the electoral watchdog group Bersih started a competing petition urging that Najib not be pardoned. The petition, addressed to the palace, requests King Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah to reject any opportunity to pardon Najib.

As of Wednesday evening, more than 35,000 people had signed the petition.

“We, your loyal subjects, humbly appeal to Your Majesty, not to exercise your discretion to pardon former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for his crime against the Malaysian public,” the petition said.

“He has been convicted of stealing public funds in the SRC International case and had been given due process of a fair trial. As the rakyat [public], we had to suffer the impact of corruption by elected officials who enriched themselves with our national wealth instead of using it to develop this country.”

Bersih, a grassroots activist organization that advocates clean government, was the group that spearheaded massive street protests after the 1MDB scandal was publicly exposed in 2015, when Najib was still in power.   

The former prime minister is scheduled to be back in the dock, at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, on Thursday for his trial in a 1MDB case in which he faces 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from the sovereign fund.

Najib set up 1MDB in 2009 when he served as prime minister and finance minister, saying it would benefit Malaysians.

More than $4.5 billion was diverted from 1MDB through fraudulent shell companies to corrupt officials and their associates, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The 1MDB scandal caused UMNO to be swept out of power in the 2018 general election, a first for the grand old party that had not lost national polls in Malaysia’s then 60-year history. (Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah / Noah Lee / Nisha David | BenarNews)

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