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Najib's pardon: Anwar kicking the can down the road, says Khairy

The former Umno Youth leader ties 'friendly fire' within the coalition government to growing impatience from supporters of Najib Razak.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
A man wears a headband reading 'Bebas Bossku' (Free Bossku), a reference to the moniker former prime minister Najib Razak assumed during his post-GE14 rebranding efforts.
A man wears a headband reading 'Bebas Bossku' (Free Bossku), a reference to the moniker former prime minister Najib Razak assumed during his post-GE14 rebranding efforts.

Sacked Umno leader Khairy Jamaluddin says the increasing criticism from key party veterans against their allies in the current government can be attributed to growing impatience over the fate of former prime minister Najib Razak.

Khairy said Anwar Ibrahim appears to be in a bind over the matter and has instead decided to buy time to avoid backlash from Pakatan Harapan (PH) supporters as well as supporters of Najib who expect him to be released through the process of obtaining a royal pardon which involves the prime minister.

"As I understand it, they are kicking the can down the road. They don't want to make a decision. They have instructed the Pardons Board not to bring out the file first by using any excuse.

"Maybe this is a sign of impatience of Bossku's supporters," Khairy said in the latest edition of a podcast he co-hosts with suspended Umno man Shahril Hamdan, using the slang on Najib by his supporters.

This comes in the wake of a tit-for-tat between Johor Umno man Puad Zarkashi and secretary-general Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki after the former attacked PKR's Rafizi Ramli over his handling of the economy portfolio.

Several other Umno leaders, including veterans Shahrir Samad and Supreme Council member Nur Jazlan Mohamed, have also publicly questioned PH leaders, in what appears to be a sign of tension building up in the Malay party six months after joining hands with its long-time foes to form the government.

Najib, who was convicted in 2020 of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power over the SRC International funds, began serving a 12-year jail term in August last year.

In March, the Federal Court dismissed his application for a review of his conviction and sentence, renewing a campaign by his supporters in Umno to secure a royal pardon.

In April, Anwar acknowledged that he would be part of the Pardons Board tasked with deciding on the pardon for Najib. 

A debate soon erupted over the role of the prime minister in hearing the pardon application, after PH supporters said it was at the sole discretion of the Agong.

Senior lawyer Zainur Zakaria, who was once part of Anwar's defence team, said the Agong was expected to act on the advice of the Pardons Board.

"The YDPA (Agong) does not act as a court to review court decisions," Zainur had said, adding that Anwar would be part of the decision-making process to advise the Agong on whether Najib should be granted a pardon.

Some analysts had warned that the renewed bid for a royal pardon for Najib could spell trouble for Anwar's coalition government, formed last year after Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi committed the 26 MPs from his party to back the PKR leader for the top office. 

They also pointed out that Najib's influence in Umno was stronger than that of Zahid's, and that the outcome of the pardon process would ultimately affect the Umno president.

Same players behind Muhyiddin's downfall

Khairy said Anwar and Zahid were trying to avoid coming to a decision on the matter.

"Because if they call a meeting of the Pardons Board, and advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to grant the pardon, it will trigger a negative reaction among some people, especially PH supporters.

"If they advise the Agong not to grant the pardon, it will invite a reaction from Umno members and Bossku's ardent supporters," he added.

Meanwhile, Shahril said the Umno leaders who are criticising their newfound allies from PH belonged to the same faction who played "star roles" in toppling Muhyiddin Yassin in 2021 when MPs alligned to Najib and Zahid withdrew their support for the Bersatu chief. 

"I'm not saying it will follow the same trend, but it's a parallel to be monitored," said Shahril, who served as economic adviser to former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.