Can Najib Play the Political Persecution Card?

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With the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) noose tightening and Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s insistence that he did no wrong, speculation is that he may attempt to claim political persecution in the matter.

After days of isolation in his Langgak Duta mansion, the former prime minister has re-emerged into the public eye, even hosting a Hari Raya open house in his hometown and constituency of Pekan, Pahang.

He also openly and repeatedly called for a political truce between his defeated Barisan Nasional and the victorious Pakatan Harapan (PH), ostensibly in the interest of national harmony, and seemingly playing the role of Opposition leader despite no longer holding any official posts.

Despite the emerging strategy, political observers were unconvinced that claiming political persecution would work as well for Najib as it did for PH de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser of Pacific Research Center, indicated that the vastly different circumstances in the two cases made it untenable for Najib to attempt the approach.

“If Najib is indeed trying to do so, he would have to overcome many hurdles, including that of negative public perception, since many associate him inextricably with the 1MDB scandals,” Oh told the Malay Mail.

“Many members of public have long clamoured for his earliest prosecution, unlike when they used to perceive Anwar’s prosecution as nothing but political persecution.”

The key difference between Najib and Anwar was that the former had been prime minister with access to all the state’s resources and agencies.

Datuk Ooi Kee Beng, Penang Institute’s executive director, added that any attempt to claim political persecution by Najib would only serve to reinforce the view that he was disconnected from the public.

“Of course, all politicians who are being or risk being prosecuted can claim that they are in fact being persecuted. 

“The thing is, he was in power for ten years and during that time the scandals that surrounded him merely grew while his regime’s arrogance became undeniable. Anwar was never the top politician and was always at the mercy of the corrupted regime,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

Not like Anwar

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) that is now a ruling party after BN’s loss, said Najib is clearly trying to defend his legacy but added that it is an “almost impossible” task.

Wan Saiful claimed that BN’s mainstay party Umno – which had been under Najib’s leadership – lost the election not only due to its policies as the previous government but also from the scandals into which Najib has drawn the party.

While Anwar’s legal troubles became the genesis of PKR, Umno and its leaders have not been as enthusiastic in defending him as they had when he was still the prime minister.

“He is nowhere near people like Anwar or Mahathir in terms of stature and respect. 

“Additionally, everyone knows he is not facing political persecution. He lives a lifestyle beyond the comprehension of a normal Malaysian,” he told the Malay Mail when contacted.

Following the change in government, Najib became the subject of a multi-agency investigation over 1MDB, with raids at properties linked to him yielding items such as luxury handbags, watches, jewellery and eye-watering amounts of cash to the tune of millions of ringgit.

Wan Saiful claimed that Najib cannot possibly still be seen as a credible politician or Opposition leader.

Umno leaders who previously defended Najib also ended up being drawn into the same controversy, he said.

“That is why we see today, one by one, Umno leaders try to distance themselves from him. And almost no one is defending him.”

PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang also dismissed any possibility of success in a persecution defence for Najib.

The former Batu MP noted that the public did not believe Najib on 1MDB even with the current public relations offensive.

“Anwar was charged over a private matter and most evidence has been subsequently proven to be fictitious. 

“Najib held power over multi-billion projects that incurred huge losses. The issue is only the extent to which Najib was responsible. That would be determined through trial,” he told the MalayMail.

Claim of innocence

Najib has consistently maintained he committed no wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB, recently citing Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks as supporting his assertion that his political rivals were accusing him without concrete proof.

Najib also alluded to a “conspiracy” from a few years ago to remove him as prime minister, further insisting that he gained no benefits or stolen money from 1MDB or anyone else.

Edgar Su/Reuters

“If I am prosecuted for political reasons, I am confident that the court will prove me innocent,” he said.

PPBM’s strategic bureau chief Datuk Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff said Najib would undoubtedly claim political persecution and innocence if a criminal prosecution emerges.

However, he said forensic accounting and documentary evidence would put paid to such a tactic.

Rais Hussin said any attempt by Najib to paint a narrative of a political conspiracy against him will gain little or no traction, noting that the former Umno president who relinquished his post in the wake of the GE14 defeat is no longer a political threat or politically relevant.

“But I am sure he will try hard to angle it as a political conspiracy. But remember, it will only work if he is a threat.

“Today, he has lost even his own party position as the president after he destroyed what his father built. So he is no longer relevant, no longer a threat,” he claimed.

Despite the government’s reported plans to prosecute Najib for money laundering and misappropriation, no charges have yet been filed against the former PM. – Malay Mail