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Umno siding with Najib, analyst says after Azalina's AG comments

However, taking a 'pro-Najib' position will mean saying good-bye to the fence sitters who might have considered supporting a 'reformist Umno'.

Teoh Yee Shen
3 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak leaves Menara Dato Onn in Kuala Lumpur after a meeting of Barisan Nasional MPs at the Umno headquarters on Oct 26, 2020.
Former prime minister Najib Razak leaves Menara Dato Onn in Kuala Lumpur after a meeting of Barisan Nasional MPs at the Umno headquarters on Oct 26, 2020.

A political analyst sees the recent remarks by Umno's Azalina Othman Said on the replacement of the attorney-general as a sign that the party has chosen to align itself with former leader Najib Razak, who recently began serving a 12-year prison sentence for the misappropriation of tens of millions in the SRC International case. 

Oh Ei Sun, of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Umno could be hoping to rally Najib's sizeable support base within the party. 

If Azalina wished to be part of Umno's main stream, he added, she would have to give favourable remarks on Najib's legal plight. 

Nevertheless, he said that the party's "pro-Najib" position meant that it was "officially kissing good-bye" the fence sitters who might have considered supporting a "renewed, reformist Umno".  

Azalina had suggested at a special meeting of Umno division leaders last weekend that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob replace the attorney-general, as it is within his power to do so. 

"Whoever is prime minister must make the attorney-general his man," she told Umno members at the gathering where speakers took turns condemning last week's Federal Court decision to send Najib to jail after losing his final appeal in the SRC International case.

Azalina, who resigned from the deputy speaker’s post during the brief power vacuum last year, was among a group of Umno MPs aligned with Najib who retracted their support for Muhyiddin Yassin, triggering his resignation as prime minister in August 2021.

Her remarks on the attorney-general earned her criticism from a number of quarters, including DAP's Ngeh Koo Ham who just a year ago defended her in the wake of a failed bid by Umno to appoint her as the Dewan Rakyat speaker.

Ngeh said in a statement on Aug 29 that Azalina should resign as special adviser to the prime minister on law and human rights, and that she was unfit for the job. 

"In the context she made the call, she is saying the PM should appoint an AG who will act according to the PM's dictates, including abusing the power of the AG acting as public prosecutor to withdraw charges against the corrupt and those who abused power, especially the Umno leaders," he said. 

Azalina submitted her resignation in a letter dated that same day, giving one-month's notice to Ismail.  

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat said an attorney-general functions as both legal adviser and public prosecutor.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said the prime minister should have his own legal adviser. 

"It can be an MP, or even a Cabinet minister," he said. 

"Azalina would be right if she meant it only for the former. In the context of the Umno rally that day, however, it could only mean the latter." 

Adding that a change in attorney-general would mean changing the public prosecutor, Wong, who is attached to Sunway University, said this was the root of the public alarm over her remarks. 

Citing previous high-profile acquittals by the Attorney-General's Chambers including that of former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman and ex-intelligence chief Hasanah Ab Hamid, he said: "A new attorney-general that acts according to Umno's wishes might just drop all of the charges against Najib in his four remaining cases," 

Najib was convicted on July 28, 2020 of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering related to RM42 million in SRC International funds.  

The Kuala Lumpur High Court sentenced him to 12 years in jail and fined him RM210 million. His conviction and sentence was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8, 2021, and again by the Federal Court on Aug 23 this year. 

Analysts said after he was sent to jail that Umno might be viewed as a corrupt party since Najib had been found guilty in court for a third time. However, they also said that Umno might attract more support from those who view Najib's verdict as proof that the party is doing its best to stamp out corruption.

Wong said Umno leaders such as Ismail and deputy president Mohamad Hasan had promised or called for reforms in the AGC, including separating the role of the government's legal adviser and that of public prosecutor. 

"This is both possible and necessary to be done before GE15, if Parliament gets to complete its term until July 15, 2023," he said. 

He added that the Federal Court verdict had given Umno a golden opportunity to break with its scandal-tainted past under Najib's leadership. 

"Umno should seize this opportunity to present itself as a rational party that loves the country more than its leaders," he said.