- Advertisement -

With Najib in jail, what next for Umno?

The effect of the Federal Court's decision to uphold the findings of two other courts could swing in either direction, analysts say.

4 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak waves at the Federal Court in Putrajaya yesterday, where a five-man bench dismissed his final appeal and upheld his conviction and sentence in the SRC International case.
Former prime minister Najib Razak waves at the Federal Court in Putrajaya yesterday, where a five-man bench dismissed his final appeal and upheld his conviction and sentence in the SRC International case.

Following the Federal Court's historic decision yesterday to send Najib Razak to jail after upholding his conviction and sentence for the misappropriation of tens of millions of ringgit, at least one of the questions on the minds of many is: whither now for Umno, which had long benefited from the popularity of "Bossku" – the moniker adopted by the former prime minister as part of his rebranding strategy in the wake of his fall from power. 

The question is especially pertinent given Umno's image as the party of choice for many Malays and the looming prospect of a long-anticipated general election.

For Najib himself, the question is whether his political career will survive his stint behind bars.  

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun said the court's decision on Najib's appeal had taken many by surprise, especially Umno.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Oh, of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said it would therefore be difficult to predict the next step by Umno as the party itself had been caught off guard. 

Nevertheless, he said one of two possibilities would likely take place.

Firstly, he said, the public might view Umno as a corrupt party since Najib, its de facto leader, had now been found guilty in court for a third time. 

"On the other hand, Umno might attract more support from those who view Najib's verdict as proof that the party is really trying to stamp out corruption," he said. 

Najib, who ruled the country for nine years until his fall from power in the 14th general election, is now in Kajang Prison where he began serving his 12-year jail term yesterday for charges related to the misappropriation of RM42 million in SRC International funds. 

The decision by the five-man Federal Court bench, led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, ended almost four years of legal proceedings and made him the first former prime minister to be sent to prison. 

On the possibility of a political comeback for Najib after serving his time in jail, Oh said such a scenario could occur. 

He gave the example of PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition which swept to victory at the 2018 general election. 

"The Agong could give Najib a royal pardon like the one Anwar received. 

"Of course, he will use the same approach of garnering sympathy over a punishment allegedly motivated by politics," he said, adding that the court's decision was far from the end for Najib. 

James Chin of Australia's University of Tasmania meanwhile said the ruling had broken what he described as one of the biggest taboos in Malaysian politics. 

"One of the big taboos in Malaysian politics is that if you are a prime minister, you are virtually untouchable," he said. 

"So this taboo has been broken." 

The authorities began investigating the SRC International case in 2018 while the trial began in April the following year, at the Kuala Lumpur High Court. 

On July 28, 2020, Najib was convicted by judge Mohd Nazlan Ghazali, who sentenced the former prime minister to 12 years in jail and fined him RM210 million. 

The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8, 2021.

In the wake of the apex court's historic decision yesterday to uphold the findings of the two lower courts, Chin said Najib's focus would likely be "spending as little time in jail as possible". 

"He will try to find a way to reduce the sentence," he added. 

Nevertheless, Chin said that Najib's political career was now over as he would lose his position as an MP as well as any chance of contesting the next general election. 

For Chin, the biggest winner from the Federal Court's verdict was the Malaysian people. 

Ironically, he added, the second biggest winner was Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. 

"He can call for a general election now," he said. "If Umno or Barisan Nasional wins, he has a very good chance of coming back as the prime minister.

"He doesn't have to watch over his shoulder for Najib or Ahmad Zahid Hamidi," he added, referring to the Umno president who is also facing a slew of criminal charges in court. 

On the next move for Umno, Chin said it would want to push for a general election given the gloomy economic outlook ahead. 

"The ringgit is already falling," he said. "The earlier, the better. They will want to go for a quick election, hoping to win back power."

But Chin also credited PH for starting the legal proceedings against Najib during its time in power. 

"Even though PH fell apart after two years, it started the case and we have seen the results. 

"If there was no regime change, obviously Najib would still be walking around today." 
Mazlan Ali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia meanwhile said Umno had lost a leader who had been capable of moving the party. 

For him, the decision would be an incentive for the people to believe that Umno and BN were truly facing a problem with integrity. 

"Perhaps the opposition will use Najib going to jail as proof of the fight against corruption in Umno and BN, that it is a real thing," he said. 

"Umno will be seen in a bad light. Maybe the people will believe such arguments."