Malaysia: ‘1MDB’ corruption scandal shows need to get rid of capitalist system

Convicted former prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Tun Razak (photo: Creative Commons/Firdaus Latif)

On 28 July, Malaysians heard the news that former Prime Minister Najib Razak was found guilty on seven counts of abuse of power, breach of trust and money laundering. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and a fine of 210 million Ringgit. The notorious ‘1MDB’ corruption case is continuing, and also involves Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

Although Najib is no stranger to corruption cases, the news came as a shock to political analysts. They had concluded that the case would be dropped by the new Attorney General who is influenced by politicians of the formerly ruling party – UMNO – and close to the former Prime Minister. Another former UMNO prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, also tried to convince Malaysians that the charges against Najib would be dropped by the new government.

After years of being shocked by the scale of the 1MDB scandal, which became sensational news around the world, Malaysians could finally feel relieved that the country’s legal institutions had decided to impose heavy penalties on Najib who stole from the ordinary people. But Najib’s decision to take the case to the Court of Appeal has raised concerns that it is still possible for him to escape without any punishment. Furthermore, the real motives for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government that wants to see Najib punished need to be scrutinised, as the new government is also controlled by corrupt and unethical politicians.

Perikatan Nasional

The sincerity of the PN government in fighting corruption in Malaysia is still suspect. Immediately after taking office earlier this year, all important positions in the judiciary (courts), legislature (parliament) and executive (cabinet) were replaced with new appointees of the new rulers. All the ‘puppets’ of the previous Pakatan Harapan government have been replaced with ‘puppets’ that would be obedient to Perikatan Nasional politicians. The BN, PH and now PN governments have never even tried to create independent institutions which are not easily influenced by any stakeholders. Instead, they have all used the existing undemocratic structure to achieve their own political ambitions.

Utilising corrupt and untrustworthy state institutions, the PN government has got charges dropped against several high-profile individuals, such as Musa Aman, the former Sarawak State MP, Menteri Besar, who was involved in a corruption scandal in the logging industry. Najib Razak’s stepson, Risa Azis, who was reported by the US government Department of Justice to be clearly involved in the 1MDB corruption scandal, was also released without imprisonment. There are many other UMNO members also facing corruption charges, including party president, Zahid Hamidi, who is currently under investigation. At the moment, it is still unclear whether Najib has been made the main fall-guy, letting other individuals involved in corruption scandals during their rule off the hook.

The Perikatan Nasional government has begun to crack down on several non-governmental organisations that have brought the 1MDB scandal and others to public attention. Activists and leaders of organisations, such as the ‘Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism’, have been called in to be questioned by the police simply for criticising the PN government. Any criticism of the new government is immediately met with threats from the authorities. Several journalists and news media were also targeted. Recently, the government has launched a criminal investigation into the Al-Jazeera news channel, which has exposed the cruel crackdown on migrants by the Malaysian authorities during the Covid-19 emergency.

The PN government is also using the ongoing chaos due to the pandemic to try and strengthen their position in power. If the PN government survives the political crisis now developing, it will try to use the existing emergency situation as an excuse to introduce new laws that favour the ruling administration. But, with the deteriorating global economic situation, any government will face challenges that have never been faced before and can create divisions among the existing ruling layer.

The Perikatan Nasional took power by using the ‘back door’. It did not come in through winning a general election. It is an unstable government. The PN government is made up of elements which have different agendas. The PN has not succeeded in strengthening its position in parliament or increasing its support from the people. The news of Najib being sentenced to imprisonment began to create disruption in the PN coalition. Some politicians close to Najib began to distance themselves from the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin. Najib still has considerable influence in UMNO – the largest party in the PN coalition.

Imposing the prison sentence on Najib is very difficult for Muhyiddin, as he needs support from UMNO to strengthen his position as prime minister. But his government has to convince ordinary people that it is committed to fighting the rampant corruption among politicians who are mostly from the previous BN government.

The mood of the masses

In 2018, the majority of Malaysians decided to reject the corrupt practices in the country’s political system by casting their votes for PH (Coalition of Hope) that promised reform and justice. The people’s anger over the corruption involving BN politicians, especially the 1MDB corruption scandal, led by prime minister Najib, were the PH’s main propaganda at the time to gain people’s support. The BN government, the longest-running ruling government in the modern world, finally collapsed after more than six decades in power. This outcome was well anticipated by the current PM, Muhyiddin, who split with UMNO to join the Bersatu party in the opposition camp. The calculated move to convict Najib of criminal activity had to be taken in order to win the trust of working people, even risking division within the PN coalition.

The imposition of punishment on Najib is seen as a desperate move by the unstable government to try to gain the support of the people. This political game does not guarantee any meaningful change for the lives of millions of working people. It is just a manipulation of their sentiments and an effort to divert people’s attention from the economic crisis ahead.

Pakatan Harapan failed the people

The PH (Coalition of Hope) lost its grip on power after only two years in charge, failing to win the hearts of the ordinary people. Although its government brought corruption charges against BN politicians, corruption cases against PH coalition members were dropped without any explanation. Former Attorney General, Tommy Thomas, moved to drop the ‘bungalow’ corruption case against Lim Guan Eng, a leader of the Democratic Action Party (part of the PH coalition). This was regarded as unethical and hypocritical in the eyes of ordinary people. Although Najib’s corruption scandal is a much more serious crime, Najib has tried to use the shortcomings of the PH leadership to increase his own support. In spite of being a proven criminal, he still has loyal followers.

The PH government also failed to make any changes to the country’s corrupt political structure during the two years it was in power. Despite promising various changes, PH politicians also used the existing political structure to strengthen their respective political positions. There has been no attempt to create institutions that are free from the influence of politicians. All judicial institutions, anti-corruption bodies, electoral oversight, and so on, are fully controlled by Coalition of Hope and used to pursue their agenda, not to defend the will of the majority of the people who voted them in. Acts that oppress and limit democracy, such as the Sedition Act, were not removed or altered. These same undemocratic and draconian laws can be used against those who express any anti-government sentiments.

The BN, PH and PN political representatives only care about their personal agenda and are not sincere in their struggle for the mass of people. Any anti-corruption rhetoric from these politicians is just a political gimmick and is not aimed at repairing the corrupt political system of the country.

Corruption is a feature of capitalist economies everywhere and will exist as long as this system is in power. Global capitalism – the world economy – will always be infected with the disease of corruption. This has been seen around the world and throughout history.

In Malaysia, the corruption cases on both sides reveal that corrupt practices can exist even within the PH coalition, which was considered trustworthy and portrayed itself as fighting against corruption. If Coalition of Hope had held on to power for a longer period of time, more corruption scandals, similar to those of Najib and the BN government, would have started to emerge. Malaysians have seen the ugly practices of all existing political organisations willing to go to any lengths, including blatant lying and backstabbing, to hold on to power and positions.

Another former prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, lost his position along with his political shell, the ‘Bersatu Party’, which was hijacked by current Prime Minister, Muhyiddin. Mahathir Mohammad is in the process of creating and strengthening a new Malay race-based political party. Having come to loggerheads with PH about their Prime Minister candidacy, Mahathir is looking very weak and unable to assert his dominance inside the opposition coalition. Mahathir is refusing to endorse Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Justice Party (PKR), a long time de facto opposition leader, and once a political enemy of Mahathir. Mahathir does not have confidence that Anwar will be able to attract votes in the election and secure a victory for PH. Meanwhile, Mahathir’s new party, ‘Pejuang’, is also struggling to gain mass support. It lost, by a big margin, to a UMNO candidate in the latest by-election contest. The opposition PH is also facing internal divisions and crises similar to the ruling PN.

It is possible that a general election could be called soon by the PN government in order to try and strengthen their position. Although the ruling PN is very confident of an electoral victory, judging by its tone, the outcome is very difficult to gauge as the mood of the people in a crisis situation will worsen in coming months. Currently, there are no clear favourites for the election. Any political coalition that emerges victorious will find themselves in an unstable government all over again and faced with a global economic calamity.

Workers’ political alternative needed

Working people need representatives who are not only brave enough to fight corruption but is also able to bring an agenda to oppose the capitalist system which is the root of all corruptions. All political representatives who only utter anti-corruption rhetoric are only aiming to manipulate people’s sentiments in order to win the elections. There is not one among the mainstream politicians who fight against capitalism, which is not only the cause of corruption but is also the cause of miserable livelihoods for millions of poor people.

Alternating governments have all proved that their allegiance is to the wealthy capitalist class, which represents less than 1% of the country’s population, and not to the welfare of the common people. Thus, while the working class and the masses in Malaysia are getting poorer every year while being burdened with the national debt, the rich capitalist class is enjoying an unprecedented increase in profits. While ordinary working people face the crisis of unemployment, extreme inflation of goods and houses, freezing of wages and the rising cost of living, the wealthy capitalist class is enjoying a comfortable life with abundant profit rates and tax exemptions from the government.

In the Covid19 pandemic situation, which is triggering a global economic crisis, the lives of ordinary people are becoming more challenging, with the prospect of high unemployment and social welfare cuts made by an almost bankrupt government. At the moment, although millions of ordinary working people are expecting emergency assistance from the government, politicians are busy trying to seize power from each other. So far, the government has not revealed the real economic situation of the country, which is approaching a recession with a sharply rising unemployment rate. The opposition coalition also does not have any solution to bring the people.

To find an effective solution, and to ensure security for future generations, the working class and the masses must reject all capitalist representations in parliament and begin to build a truly committed political alternative to oppose the capitalist system. Millions of oppressed people who have been repeatedly deceived and disappointed by politicians from different camps are looking for a political alternative that truly represents their interests. So a political representative who brings the working people’s agenda forward, such as a living wage, for all workers, free education, good quality and free healthcare system, increasing taxes on the big capitalists (a progressive taxation policy), increasing people’s welfare funds, and so on, will be able to build a common struggle among the people that can be manifested in a mass movement.

Working-class organisations, such as trade unions and grass-roots organisations, are the leadership that can bring this political alternative. Therefore, working people’s organisations must unite to create a democratic political leadership, bring forth the aspirations of millions of oppressed people, and have a clear direction that replaces the capitalist economic system with socialism. This will genuinely represent the interests of the working class and the oppressed.

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