Dennis Ignatius: What price Zahid Hamidi?

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If Zahid is allowed to game the system, it is lost already.

Bernama

I get it that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim desperately needs Zahid Hamidi’s backing to remain in power. I understand the fears of many Malaysians that Zahid is all that’s standing between Abdul Hadi Awang and Putrajaya. Such is the fear of Hadi that many of Zahid’s biggest critics are now pleading that the man be left alone as the price to be paid for the survival of the government and for keeping Malaysia safe from racial and religious extremism.

But what price must we pay and keep on paying to retain his support? Does it include, amongst others, giving Zahid and other UMNO leaders a free pass from all the charges against them?

True, government leaders say that Zahid’s trial will go on, that no special deals will be made. But can we really trust these assurances given the many high-profile cases that are mysteriously and abruptly discontinued without any explanation whatsoever?

Just this week, yet another high-profile politician – Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim – was acquitted of corruption and money laundering charges after the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) withdrew the charges against him.

Azeez was first charged in 2019. Countless hours, not to mention money, were spent prosecuting the case. And then, suddenly, “new” evidence was discovered which led the Attorney-General’s Chambers to conclude that “it did not have any evidence to support the case against Azeez”. Pretty bizzare, huh?

Is the MACC and AGC so incompetent that they cannot even manage a corruption case or is something else going on here?

And it is not the first time that cases are mysteriously dropped. In October last year, Ahmad Maslan, another senior UMNO leader, was acquitted of money-laundering after the deputy public prosecutor withdrew the charges against him.

At the time, Pakatan Harapan leaders strongly criticised the AG and demanded an explanation. Yesterday, Anwar appointed Ahmad Maslan deputy finance minister in his government.

Remember too that since 2018, Zahid seems to have been motivated by only one goal: finding a way out of all the corruption charges he faces. He helped destabilise and bring down three successive governments and precipitated early election in furtherance of this single objective. After all that, does anyone seriously think that he is now going to meekly submit to the courts and allow them to decide his fate?

What’s more, UMNO has always argued that the cases against Najib Tun Razak, Zahid and other UMNO leaders were politically motivated and unfair. Judging by the comments of supreme council member Puad Zarkashi, UMNO is now ramping up the pressure against the AG to re-open the corruption case against Najib.  They are also demanding that action be taken against Justice Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, the judge who convicted Najib.

Bar Council president Karen Cheah, clearly alarmed by these moves, issued a strong warning against any attempt to undermine the judicial process. “We cannot have the judiciary’s final decision, made at the apex court in August 2022, continuously questioned just to fulfil the agenda of specific political parties,” she said.

In the meantime, Zahid’s lawyer Salim Bashir indicated that Zahid may make another representation for the attorney-general to withdraw, suspend or reduce the charges brought against Zahid.

Is this a prelude to getting the case against Zahid and others withdrawn? Are we okay with that? Are we going to just shrug our shoulders and mumble inanities about the need to be pragmatic or to look at the big picture?

In view of these developments, it is incumbent upon all those who care about good governance to demand that no deals be made on Zahid’s case and that the attorney-general forcefully and vigorously pursue all the charges against him (and others) in the interest of justice and the rule of law.

If our democracy cannot withstand this test, it is too far gone to save. If Zahid is allowed to game the system, it is lost already. – Dennis Ignatius