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Eyebrows raised over ‘democracy forum’ featuring Najib and Anwar

Concerns have as much to do with the ex-PM's involvement in a forum on democracy, as with the organiser's background.

2 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Former prime minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Civil society circles have raised questions about an upcoming forum this month in which PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and former prime minister Najib Razak have agreed to participate, alongside a list of speakers who include Umno as well as Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders.

Their concern is not so much about the fact that Najib – who has been convicted of the illegal transaction of millions of dollars in public funds into his private bank accounts – has been given the important job of delivering the keynote address at the close of the one-day programme.

Neither does Anwar’s participation in the event come as a surprise. The two politicians have in recent times been taking a common stand in their criticism of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, on the back of informal talks between their parties to join hands at the next general election.

“What is of equal concern is the person behind the organisation of the forum,” a civil society activist told MalaysiaNow on condition of strict anonymity.

He said many in his circles are aware that the head of the think tank behind the forum featuring Anwar and Najib is a person who has been charged with extortion from a prominent tycoon.

The person was acquitted after the complainant, who was also the main prosecution witness, failed to show up in court to testify at the trial.

MalaysiaNow has decided not to name the forum or its organiser.

But a conversation with a spokesman for the think tank confirmed that he is the same man.

The spokesman however dismissed concerns about the organiser’s background, as well as the decision to allow Najib to have the last say in a forum to discuss democracy.

“He is an MP similar to everybody else. There is Anwar who has been given a spot as well,” the spokesman said, denying that the forum is seeking to promote any particular politician.

Najib’s nine-year rule was tainted by the 1MDB scandal, which saw him accused of channelling over US$700 million (about RM2.6 billion) from the strategic development company to his personal bank accounts.

In 2015, Najib’s administration cut short a multi-agency investigation into the scandal, followed by the removal of the attorney-general.

Investigations were reopened by Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government in 2018, with authorities confiscating close to RM1 billion worth of cash and luxury items kept at several properties linked to Najib.

Last year, the High Court found Najib guilty of seven charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power related to SRC International, and sentenced him to 12 years in jail. He is appealing against the conviction.

Meanwhile, publicity material for the forum sighted by MalaysiaNow shows a line-up of speakers and panellists including the speakers of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, as well as Umno leaders and former ministers in the PH government.

A state energy firm and a digital data company, meanwhile, are named as sponsors.

It is learnt that the think tank behind the forum is no stranger to organising similar programmes on the theme of fighting corruption and democracy, which in the past featured prominent politicians and civil servants.