Dennis Ignatius: Ismail Sabri’s election bullets

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Now we know why Ismail Sabri set up special task forces to investigate former attorney-general Tommy Thomas along with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

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In a rather shocking admission at a campaign rally a few days ago, Ismail proudly boasted that by going after Thomas (and Mahathir) and making public the reports of the respective task forces, he had given UMNO “bullets” to use in the general election. He urged UMNO members to “capitalize” and “play up the issue” in order to attack the opposition.

It may be recalled that the police investigated Thomas soon after his book – My Story: Justice in the Wilderness – was released in 2021. They found nothing and closed the case. But that was not good enough for Ismail and UMNO; so, a special task force was established to dig for dirt against Thomas.

After months of work, the task force submitted a report full of subjective, politically-motivated opinions – that he was unsuited for the task, that he lacked the skills to head a huge government body such as the AGC, that he was ignorant of Malaysian laws, etc.

Very conveniently, the task force also found 19 key issues that warranted “further attention.” Seizing upon the report, Ismail quickly ordered a criminal investigation against Thomas under the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, the Penal Code and the anti-corruption law.

I suppose it is to be expected. Ismail, who presided over one of the largest cabinets in Malaysian history, has precious little to show for it. History might well judge him to be one of the most lacklustre prime ministers we’ve ever had. Without much of a record to boast of, Ismail and his colleagues in UMNO have to resort to dirty tricks to burnish their credentials.

But this goes beyond politics. It makes a mockery of both task forces whose members were gullible enough to allow themselves to be manipulated into serving UMNO’s political agenda. More than that, it represents a serious abuse of executive power. In effect, Ismail and UMNO weaponized our justice system to discredit their opponents.

UMNO leaders wailed loudly about “selective prosecution” when well-founded corruption charges were brought against former UMNO leaders, but if anyone wants to know what selective prosecution really looks like, look no further than these cases against Mahathir and Thomas.

Despite UMNO’s attempt to smear him for political gain, Thomas remains a hero to many Malaysians for fearlessly going after some of the biggest crooks in the land. Ismail Sabri might have just shot himself in the foot with those bullets he bragged about.

Interestingly, while Ismail was playing up the reports of the two task forces, he made no mention of another far more serious report that was quietly released about the same time – the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the Wang Kelian tragedy.

In 2015, more than 130 graves of refugees and illegal immigrants were uncovered in Wang Kelian, Perlis. The stink of the scandal was so great that the government of the day was forced to establish a royal commission of enquiry. The commission’s report highlighted a series of missteps and failures by the agencies involved and concluded that the torture and deaths of the illegal immigrants could have been prevented if the agencies and policy-makers concerned had just done their job.

It was a damning indictment of the government’s incompetence, neglect and poor performance.

And who were the ministers directly responsible for all those government agencies involved at the material time? UMNO big wigs Hishammuddin Hussein (2009-2013) and Zahid Hamidi (2013-2018). Shouldn’t these ministers take responsibility for the failures outlined in the royal commission?

But don’t expect Ismail Sabri and UMNO to do anything about it; they are far too busy manufacturing fake narratives to care about issues that really matter. This whole affair is yet another reason why Malaysians should decisively reject UMNO come GE15. – Dennis Ignatius