Malaysia: Is Anwar’s Retrospective Anti-Corruption Drive Worth The Political Instability? – Analysis


When former finance minister Daim Zainuddin failed to explain the sources of his wealth, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized control of the iconic Ilham Tower in Kuala Lumpur, owned by the Daim family. With new names being leaked out as people of interest to the MACC, many senior political and business people shuddered with fear, they might be next.

The seizure of Ilham Tower originated from the investigation of transactions dating back to 1997, based upon the ‘Pandora Papers’ that show RM 2.3 billion trail of concealed financial transactions through a web of offshore accounts. This action was taken under the MACC Act 2009, which brings into question the legality of the seizure, as the transactions were retrospective to the piece of legislation being used. 

Tun Daim has claimed the actions taken against him is just plain political persecution, bringing much conjecture around KL, as to whether the Ilham Tower seizure is genuinely part of Anwar’s anti-corruption crusade, part of a pre-emptive move to shore up his government, or motivated by revenge and retribution. This move could easily backfire, further isolating him even further in the ‘Malay electorate’ he desperately wants to win over.

This all comes at the back of the charges against former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, where the High Court found four abuse of power charges defective, and dismissed. In addition, the pursuit of Tun Daim contrasts with the dismissal not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) of 47 breath of trust and money laundering charges against UMNO president and deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last year. This supports the allegations of selective prosecution made by the opposition.

Part of a coordinated defence of the Madani government

There appears to be a coordinated attack upon the opposition. Anwar’s strategists maybe believe that attack on the opposition is the best defence of the government. The defection of 5 MPs who pledged support for Anwar, while remaining members of Bersatu, not only shores up Anwar’s parliamentary numbers, but makes Muhyiddin look like his leadership is crumbling, where Bersatu’s representation in parliament has been whittled down from 31 to 26 seats.

Actions always lead to reactions

The happenings of the last week led to the possibility that pursuing those who are still powerful with lawfare on decades old issues, will lead to these powerful people plotting their own attacks upon the Anwar government to bring back a period of political instability.

This is where the alleged meetings among a number of politicians across various parties, including PBB, GPS and UMNO MPs on the government side in Dubai last week has led to speculation of some sort of attempt to bring down the Anwar government, in favour of a new government comprising of PAS, Bersatu, UMNO, with the support of the East Malaysian parties. The presence of the YDPA in Dubai at the same time on official duties, helped to create an even more sinister appearance, even though it was unknown whether the parties even met the YDPA.

Just rumours alone are enough to create political instability.

The reaction from the Community Communications Department (J-Kom) deputy director-general Ismail Yusop played up the issue.  Ismail said such discussions were acts of betrayal, a malicious political conspiracy, and an act of treason, where Anwar should act decisively, was enough to create more damage. Ismail Made the government look hypocritical. 

Ismail’s comments implied that such a move is backed by powerful political figures who are providing the financial support to induce MPs to switch their allegiances, in what has been dubbed the ‘Dubai move’.

What could happen next?

However, this time round, any ‘Dubai move’ cannot resemble the ‘Sheraton move’ that dislodged Pakatan Harapan from office in February 2020. Carrying a batch of Statutory Declaration (SDs) to the Istana just wont work this time around. There is no Covid-19 pandemic, no emergency, so the YDPA would with little doubt allow the parliament to deal with the issue, particularly with less than one month of his tenure left as king.

Based upon past moves to oust previous administrations, any move to bring down a government on the floor of the Dewan Rakyat will require politicians to come out of the dark, directly into the light and proactively advocate a no confidence motion. Most individual MPs will shy away from this, as they will feel very uncomfortable playing direct and public roles. It’s much easier for MPs to sign an SD and let others deal with the matter. 

Calling for a motion of no confidence in the prime minister directly would be risky. That’s why there has never been one before. Most moves against a prime minister have always used the YDPA’s office, using SDs as proof of a majority. 

If there was any call for a motion of no confidence against the prime minister, be rest assured the government will play every parliamentary trick they know to avoid one. 

This indicates the Dubai move will be difficult to implement, as it would most probably cause ripples within UMNO, and PBB would have to play a very pro-active role in the toppling of Anwar, that it would not be prepared to do. 

If the objective of the so called ‘Dubai move’ was to give the appearance of political instability, it achieved that goal. If the ‘Dubai move’ is intended to be the start of the downfall of Anwar, it better have a very good strategy in place.

However, if there was a vote of no confidence, and Anwar lost the vote. He would either have to resign as prime minister, and/or advise the YDPA to call a general election. If no other MP could show he or she could command the confidence of at least 112 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, there would be little choice but to have a general election. 

Goad for an early election?

The only way Anwar can be deposed is most probably through an early general election. With the unpopularity of the Anwar government, this is something the Pakatan Harapan components of the coalition would fear most. In addition, UMNO would most likely be desecrated, so will resist any calls for a general election. 

The likely outcome if any general election was called, would be a reply of the 2022 election, only UMNO and PH would have much fewer seats. This would place the East Malaysian parties in the king maker role. 

Any general election will most probably lead to a Malay-centric coalition, with Sabah and Sarawakian support. Sarawak would head towards a ‘defacto-independence’ or autonomy by taking control of more infrastructural assets and power, at a state level. The Federation of Malaysia will look more like a marriage of convenience, than a united nation.

The solution to potential political instability might not rest with party politics, the parliament, and the people. Anwar’s anti-corruption crusade may have to make compromises for the sake of stable government. Otherwise, we could see the fall of the Anwar government. 

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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