- Advertisement -

Anwar's image to take a hit if Najib is freed, say analysts

They play down the odds of Najib walking free, but say the prime minister's reputation has already come under question.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The image of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his administration which has long championed the reformasi cause will take a hit if it bows to pressure from Umno for the release of jailed former leader Najib Razak, analysts say. 

James Chin, of Australia's University of Tasmania, said questions had already been raised about Anwar's apparent silence in the face of Umno's efforts to obtain a royal pardon for Najib.

Nevertheless, he said the attempts to secure a release for Najib, who is serving a 12-year jail term at Kajang Prison, appeared to be merely an exercise in public relations. 

"I don't think this pardon is for real because of his outstanding court cases," he said. 

"Unless the attorney-general drops all of the cases related to Najib, I don't think this pardon request will go anywhere. 

"(But) it has already damaged Anwar's reputation because many are asking why he didn't intervene when he knew that Umno was trying to do these kinds of things." 

Najib, the former Pekan MP, began his jail term on Aug 23 last year after the Federal Court upheld his conviction and sentence for the misappropriation of RM42 million in SRC International funds. 

On March 31, he lost his final legal bid for a review of his case, following which efforts turned towards getting him a royal pardon instead. 

The former prime minister still faces a number of other corruption trials. 

Recently, Anwar acknowledged that he would be part of the Pardons Board, the body tasked with advising the Agong on applications for pardons for convicted persons. 

Nevertheless, he assured that there would be no conflict of interest as any decision would be made by the Agong as laid out in Articles 42(1) and 42(2) of the Federal Constitution. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Chin said Najib's odds of release through a royal pardon were slim, adding that it would take "a miracle" for the former leader to get out of jail. 

Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia meanwhile said a Najib release would reflect badly on Anwar as the champion of the reformasi movement, especially as he would be on the Pardons Board. 

He said it could also affect public confidence in the judiciary as it would be seen as political interference even though the decision is made by the king. 

"Of course, Pakatan Harapan supporters will be the most disappointed as they have long wanted change through Anwar's administration," he said. 

Azmil said it was also possible that Najib would return to lead Umno and Barisan Nasional in the event that he is released from jail, as his support within the party remains strong. 

"In the meantime, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also facing 47 charges in court," he said. 

"He, too, faces the possibility of time behind bars. If this happens, there will be a vacancy in Umno which could be filled by Najib or other party leaders."

At the moment, Azmil said, the best way for Anwar to save his reputation would be to step down from the Pardons Board and to place in his stead an individual with no political interests who could assess the application in an objective manner. 

"Perhaps a former judge, lawyer or civil society activist," he said. 

"But not a politician, especially not one from Umno, as this could give rise to a conflict of interest."