Court’s decision on Zahid may throw spanner in Pakatan’s works for this weekend’s by-elections, observers suggest

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 — The recent decision to not pursue Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s Yayasan Akalbudi trial will likely affect the performance of the unity government in the two upcoming by-elections in Johor, several political observers have suggested.

The analysts told Malay Mail that Pakatan Harapan (PH) may now be on the back foot to explain the decision to voters, with International Islamic University Malaysia’s Syaza Shukri saying the pact would look hypocritical if it says or does nothing.

“Perikatan Nasional (PN) is known for its ‘clean and stable’ slogan and they will use this to their advantage better than PH and Barisan Nasional (BN).

“Plus PH supporters may not be too happy as well and choose to stay out. But I think PN will benefit most by using this as part of their campaign,” the assistant professor of political science said when contacted.

Syaza said while Umno and the federal government coalition may yet stay intact, they have the onus to explain the decision to not go to trial when prima facie evidence has been established.

“More investigation? It doesn’t make sense. Someone needs to answer,” she said.

However, she said the ruling coalition will face a drawn-out battle to defend itself against accusations by PN and even the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) of playing the same old politics.

“This will impact the long-term strategy of how to place what PH-BN stands for. Supposedly for reform. Now what? It’s a long road to fix PH’s reputation and we can already foresee the assault,” she said.

Yesterday, the High Court granted an order to discharge but not acquit Zahid from all 47 charges in his Yayasan Akalbudi trial as asked by the prosecution said it would not continue the trial against the BN chairman. The defence had asked for a full acquittal, which trial judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah declined.

The 47 charges were 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to over RM31 million of Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges of over RM21.25 million in alleged bribes.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s political analyst Mazlan Ali echoed Syaza’s sentiments, saying PN would use Zahid’s release as part of its narrative in attacking the PH-BN alliance.

“Perhaps, PN will use Zahid’s release as a narrative where it’s a black mark for Malaysia.

“For Pulai and Simpang Jeram, PN will use the release as a narrative for public support where a criminal can go free due to alleged meddling,” said the Razak Faculty Perdana Centre analyst.

Additionally, he predicted that Umno members would use this event to push for former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s release.

This comes as Umno secretary-general Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said yesterday that Zahid’s case was a “desperate” political ploy orchestrated by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia he once chaired to bury Umno after the watershed 14th general election.

“For the long term, Umno may develop into a complex political system in the making with the unity government,” he said, going on to question whether Umno will remain allies with PH.

On the other hand, Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan expressed his belief in the reverse: that Zahid’s court decision would bring slight benefits to PH.

Although admitting it would provide PN with political ammunition in the campaigning for Simpang Jeram and Pulai, he explained that this would provide PH with the opportunity to counter it by showing that it did not have any hands in the reversal.

“Slight edge to PH since it can easily put out rebuttals on PN’s accusation that the government interferes [in judicial matters],” he said, explaining that PH would not have wanted the matter to rear its head during campaigning.

The fact that Zahid had gone through with the trial could provide the public with a good impression of him too, Azmi added.

“Whether there is a by-election or not it will make Zahid stronger because he has gone through the court process,” he said.

He explained it would provide a stark contrast against PN chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s son-in-law Datuk Seri Muhammad Adlan Berhan, who is sought by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over a corruption case.

However, security analyst and senior lecturer in International Studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia Mohamad Faisol Keling downplayed that the court decision would have any impact on the two by-elections.

“The Johor by-elections will not be affected by this issue because the people have seen how the legislation, the judiciary and legal agencies have allegedly been misused after 2018,” he said.

Malaysians have disputed the national legal and judicial system since 2018, he said, adding that public perception views the judiciary as a tool for political parties.

“For example, Najib’s case has many loopholes that become a yardstick in the eyes of the people that legislation, the judiciary and legal agencies have been misused.

“This is evident when there are a number of former chief justices, Court of Appeal judges and others who have disputed the course of the country’s laws after 2018,” he said.

Although PN would surely exploit the issue, he said that it would probably not affect voters in Johor as much as it would have in the PN-controlled states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said the government respects the legal process and the separation of powers between the judiciary, the executive and the legislative, and did not interfere with the court decision.

Electoral watchdog Bersih also called on the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to review the matter and re-charge Zahid if necessary, saying the prosecution now owed the public an explanation as to why the application for DNAA was made when a prima facie case has already been established.