Political responses to verdict do not augur well for the rule of law

pic by BERNAMA

THE Kuala Lumpur High Court verdict against former Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak on seven charges of power abuse, criminal breach of trust and money laundering had elicited some strange responses from politicians.

Sociologically, these reactions reflect a serious nation-building problem in Malaysia, the contradiction between national institutions and professed principles with actual social values and conduct of political leaders.

In the first instance, PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin found it necessary to make a statement that was meant to clarify, but ended up only raising many more questions. In a statement, he said: “Let us continue to have faith in the judicial system”. Coming from the PM, it would be stating the obvious, unless its immediate context is contending with social groups rejecting outright the verdict, bringing pressure to bear on the government for it.

This seems obvious when the PM said: “I understand the feelings and sentiments you are experiencing — but let me stress that the government will always uphold the rule of law”.

Just what are these feelings that he “understands”, necessitating stating “let me stress that the government will always uphold the rule of law”.

This is not a PM advocating a general principle of the rule of law, but one in a situation of pacifying dissenting social groups.

Immediately after the court verdict, Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters outside the court, and in sympathy with Najib: “For sure what we will do is take action in the form of efforts to determine the direction of the present government.”

He also posted in social media that “In order to share life, what more to share power, sincerity and honesty should be the main principle of sharing. When sincerity and honesty are cast aside, any sharing should be reviewed.”

On the same night of the verdict, top PAS leaders: Its resident, deputy president, the secretary general and a council member visited Najib. They are senior government leaders and exude powerful signals that symbolically they question the verdict.

This moved Najib to capitalise posting on social media: “I received some late night guests last night. There’s no need for long explanations. True friends are not just those who stick with you through tough or good times but those who are always praying for us. True friends are hard to find.”

Top PAS leader Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz subtly cast doubt on the legal standing of the verdict through the device of religion in his Facebook’s posting: “I don’t know who is right, which one is wrong, but I certainly know that Allah holds and owns that truth.”

He raises doubt over the court verdict by referencing the transcendental: “He is sure to defend His subject who is truthful and fights for His cause.”

In defending Najib’s continual membership in Umno, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, the party’s treasurer, provides his own interpretation of the court verdict against Najib.

He said: “Najib is not yet guilty. When he is found guilty (at the court of appeal), we shall expel him from the party. It is now still at the stage of appeal. We shall decide on Najib’s membership after he is found guilty.”

Such responses from political leaders and members of the government with the effect of casting doubts on the legal standing of the court verdict, in contradiction to the rule of law enshrined in the constitution and upheld by national institutions, certainly does not help nation-building based on our professed ideals and values.

But then these responses might not be all about legality but also for public emotion and sympathy, particularly for Malay voters.

Shaharuddin Maaruf
Petaling Jaya, Selangor

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.