The small step before the leap


IF THERE’S any one rationale given by Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders to justify the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the federal government that has come back to bite them in the rear, it would be the one where they said that it would strengthen the position of the prime minister (PM) to reject demands from the kleptocrats.

This justification had been widely mocked on social media mainly after former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, as well as Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had their passports returned.

The former first couple can now travel to Singapore to be by the side of their daughter, who is an expectant mother, and for Ahmad Zahid to fly to Germany for treatment of the pain in his neck and back.

The return of the passports to the trio drew much flak since between them they face dozens of court cases and being allowed to travel is indeed an insult to Malaysians who had been blacklisted and barred from travelling for trivial offences by comparison, including the failure to service their study loans.

There is no justification whatsoever for them to be allowed to travel when their cases involve billions of ringgit. It is beyond double standards. It mocks the law, the citizenry, the nation and whatever little values that are left that Malaysians still hold on to.

It put paid to efforts put up by Najib and his image builders to re-brand him as a people’s leader, as the travelling right he has now secured reminds all and sundry of him being part of the “kayangan” (the privileged) cluster that has epitomised Malaysia’s double standard of late.

While PM Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his supporters may argue that the decisions to return the passports were made by the courts, the fact that the attorney general (AG) did not put up a protest or Ismail Sabri himself expressing his opposition, proved that it was a decision that they had consented to, be it by chance or design.

That also put paid to the justification by the PH leaders that the MoU would strengthen the PM to reject demands from the kleptocrats.

By now, a mild way of putting the issue to rest would be that the PH leaders were naïve to believe that the PM would stand up to the kleptocrats since he had secured the Opposition’s support vis-à-vis the MoU. That will take away the brunt of anger towards the PH and direct it solely at Ismail Sabri, a convenient escape clause for the PH leaders from being questioned over their wisdom in signing the MoU.

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang did attempt to protest the passport issue. He was quoted as asking why Damansara MP Tony Pua’s passport was impounded and the latter was prevented from leaving the country in 2015 when his passport was still valid, and yet Najib is allowed to travel abroad despite his conviction.

“Yesterday, the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism demanded an explanation as to why the AG’s Chambers did not object to the former PM’s application for his travel document despite a corruption conviction and ongoing criminal trials and how the government would ensure Najib would not abscond,” Lim said in a statement.

A news portal’s headline was much more damning: “Kit Siang: Why is convict Najib allowed to travel.”

Ironically, Pua was the leading advocate for the PH to sign the MoU and the one who was quoted as saying that it would strengthen the PM to reject demands from the kleptocrats.

By the look of things, naiveté is definitely not a defence for the PH. After all, Ismail Sabri is cut from the same Umno cloth and even if he is not part of the kleptocrats, he stood by them in the last election and until today, he has not once denounced them.

Neither has he shown any efforts to distance himself from them and by the look of things, he has been publicly and proudly sharing moments he had with Najib.

In the thoughts of those opposed to the MoU and the kleptocrats, the PH had placed them in an awkward position — on the one hand fed by the government with tokens of reforms, while the other is slowly untying the bindings of the kleptocrats.

Whether the PH wants to admit it or not, the little liberties that had been going the way of the kleptocrats are viewed as little steps before the big leap. Given the circumstances, it is doubtful that the PH is about to do anything and neither do they seem to be too keen to do anything.

Letting go of a family that exudes such warmth will be preposterous.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.