Agora Society is deeply concerned whether the unity government is still the government that upholds good governance and justice, whether it still has the political will to implement institutional reforms as promised by Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional in their respective manifestos.
Major doubts and questions have arisen following the shocking news to the nation that the Deputy Public Prosecutor team filed an application for a “discharge not amounting to an acquittal” at the Kuala Lumpur High Court after Deputy PM Zahid Hamidi was ordered to enter his defence on the 47 charges that the prosecution had succeeded in establishing prima facie in January 2022.
Until the roles of attorney general and public prosecutor are formally separated and the appointment of public prosecutors is independent of political interference, the actions of the DPP could be perceived as influenced by the current ruling parties and leaders, as the attorney general, as a government appointee, still retains control over who, what and how to prosecute.
This incident has led to a great loss of confidence among civil society and the public that political interference has taken precedence in determining the outcome, and that justice will not be seen to have been done if the trial does not run its full course. However, this case has nothing to do with the integrity of the judiciary; the decision not to prosecute rests entirely with the DPP.
Therefore, the DPP, the attorney general and the government are accountable, Agora Society argues, and they owe the public a good explanation that can make sense given that the charges are not new and that the prosecution team has had more than one-and-a-half years to prepare for the trial.
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Agora Society would like to remind politicians and their supporters defending the Zahid case that two wrongs don’t make a right: Mahiaddin Yasin’s release is already seen as controversial; now Zahid’s release does not mean that both politicians are truly free from corrupt practices or have done anything against the values of good governance and public accountability.
Agora Society takes corruption very seriously, as it is a cancer of society that corrupts our values, not just bleeds the nation’s resources at the expense of fair distribution to the people. We understand the current legal loopholes – for example, laws that regulate political funding are non-existent, and we call for a political financing act so that Mahiaddin’s case would have to be accountable and answerable.
The PM’s power over public institutions such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and public prosecutors (through the attorney general) must be reformed.
What we have learnt from the past, during the Najib Razak’ administration, is that the abuses are rampant and this continues even now under the “unity government” led by the so-called reformist Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Worse, he even holds the position of finance minister, which greatly concentrates and further consolidates his power.
We wonder if he would relinquish control of public institutions such as the MACC and make it directly accountable to Parliament; separate the attorney general from the public prosecutors to fulfill the manifesto promises that sound reformist. Not even in the first Pakatan Harapan cabinet led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad did the leader hold two key ministerial positions at the same time! Anwar needs to be reminded of the lesson: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Public perception is powerful politics; people have a sense of justice and know what may have gone wrong. If the corrupt leaders are not seen to be brought to justice for political reasons, their release sends a dangerously wrong signal about the government’s commitment to good governance and anti-corruption.
No wonder the opposition Perikatan Nasional is trying to steal the show by claiming to be “clean and stable” and campaigning on an ‘anti-corruption’ ticket, even though its leader, Mahiaddin, has much to answer for during his short tenure in the PN government.
Agora Society joins the chorus of many like-minded civil society organisations in calling on the unity government to stay away from the role of public prosecutors and allow them to be independent, professional and work in the public interest without political interference. If this is not possible, what about the more difficult reforms?
If Pakatan Harapan is to have any hope of winning the hearts and minds of the electorate in the run-up to future elections, they must deliver on the institutional reforms they have long promised and advocated. Now they have no Mahathir to blame, Anwar is fully in charge! – Agora
Agora Society Malaysia is a network of intellectuals, writers and activists who advance democratic progress in Malaysia through critical analyses and propositions based on the principles of democracy and good governance