Malaysia’s 13 new federal ministers were sworn in yesterday (Monday) in a ceremony at the National Palace (Istana Negara). A foreign minister is yet to be named.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says there will eventually be 25 ministers in the Cabinet.
The swearing-in ceremony came just 12 days after Malaysian voters put an end to the rule of Barisan Nasional (the National Front).
Since the election on May 9 there has been a period of high drama during which the country has seen the swearing in of the world’s oldest prime minister, the release of the jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, and police raids on the home of the former prime minister Najib Razak.
The victory of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was the opposition’s first general election win since Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, tried to go on a private plane to Indonesia the weekend after the election, but the immigration department has placed a ban on them leaving the country. Najib said in a tweet: “I have just been informed by the immigration department of Malaysia that my family and I are not allowed to go abroad. I respect the decision and I will remain in the country with my family.”
The former prime minister, who has resigned as president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and chairman of Barisan Nasional (BN), continues to complain that he is hard done by, and says that voters failed to appreciate what his government had done for the country. He says he didn’t steal from the people and that BN lost because of a smear campaign against him.
His lawyer, Harpal Singh Grewal, said the police search of Najib’s home went on for about 18 hours and amounted to “harassment”.
Najib, who retained his parliamentary seat in his home town of Pekan in Pahang, is mired in scandal over the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). He is accused of siphoning off huge amounts of public money for his own use, but denies all wrongdoing.
The new government has pledged to investigate all allegations of corruption and bring an end to the kleptocracy that has marked Barisan Nasional’s rule.
Najib is expected to give a statement to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) today (Tuesday). MACC chief commissioner Mohd Shukri Abdull has told journalists to expect a “special briefing”.
The MACC has reopened its investigation into allegations about 1MDB and is initially focusing on how 42 million ringgit (about US$10.6 million) allegedly went from SRC International to Najib’s account.
Najib’s government created SRC in 2011 to pursue overseas investments in energy resources. It was a subsidiary of 1MDB until it was transferred to the finance ministry in 2012.
Mahathir announced a list of 13 ministers last Friday after the king, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, approved the nominations.
The prime minister had initially said that he would be education minister but, after criticism highlighting the pledge in the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition’s manifesto, which stated that the prime minister will not hold any other ministerial posts, he said that he would not take up the portfolio and gave it to former university lecturer Maszlee Malik.
On Friday, the prime minister named Mohamed Azmin Ali, who is the deputy president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party, or PKR), as the Minister of Economic Affairs and the deputy chairman of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Gobind Singh Deo, as the Minister of Communications and Multimedia.
Gobind Singh Deo, who is a prominent lawyer, MP for Puchong in Selangor, and son of the late DAP politician and lawyer Karpal Singh, makes history as Malaysia’s first Sikh minister.
The Minister of Transport will be the DAP’s national organising secretary, Anthony Loke Siew Fook. It is an appointment that has been welcomed by the next-of-kin of those who were on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The news agency Bernama quoted Loke as saying a major issue for the ministry was to continue searching for MH370.
“I hope during my tenure, we can reach a closure of the MH370 issue. This I think is very important not only for family members but also the aviation industry. I really hope that in the coming months or years, we can close this tragedy,” Loke was quoted as saying.
Mahathir named the head of the PKR women’s wing, Zuraida Kamaruddin, as the Minister of Housing and Local Government and DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran as the Minister of Human Resources.
The other ministers named on Friday include the deputy president of the Islamic National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara), Salahuddin Ayub, who is now the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry; Amanah strategic director Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is the Minister of Health; and Titiwangsa MP Rina Harun from Mahathir’s party, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who is the Minister of Rural Development.
Mahathir had earlier in the week named Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (pictured below), who is the president of PKR, as deputy prime minister, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as finance minister, Amanah president Mohamad (Mat) Sabu as defence minister, and the PPBM president, Muhyiddin Yassin, as the Minister for Home Affairs.
Wan Azizah, who is Malaysia’s first female deputy prime minister, will also be the Minister of Women and Family Development. (The deputy prime minister is allowed to have another ministerial post.)
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Najib under investigation
Several premises linked to Najib and Rosmah have been raided by police. It is reported that at least 72 cases of cash, jewellery and valuables, and 284 boxes of luxury handbags, including Hermès Birkins, which can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, have been confiscated.
According to the marketplace for designer bags Baghunter, Birkins have far outperformed both gold and the Standard & Poor’s stock index as an investment over the past 37 years. The annual return on a Birkin handbag is more than 14 percent.
Channel NewsAsia says it is has seen and verified a police document that states that Malaysian police seized 52 branded bags, ten luxury watches and cash in multiple currencies, including 537,000 ringgit (about US$135,000) in the raid at Najib’s private residence.
According to Channel NewsAsia, police believe there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that all such items are a matter of offence under the nation’s Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001”.
It is alleged that, between 2009 and 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to the 1MDB fund was misappropriated by high-level officials of the fund and their associates.
Najib faces allegations that he channelled more than 2.6 billion ringgit (nearly US$700 billion) from 1MDB into his personal bank accounts. He has denied all wrongdoing.
In 2015, Najib sacked the then deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, who had publicly demanded that Najb explain how the 2.6 billion ringgit got into his private account. He also removed the attorney-general, Abdul Gani Patail, from his post.
Mahathir told a press conference on Wednesday that Abdul Gani had told him he was preparing to charge Najib. “But you know what happened; that morning he was deprived of his post,” Mahathir said.
Abdul Gani was heading the special task force investigating the allegations about the 2.6 billion ringgit, which Najib claimed was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family.
In January 2016, Abdul Gani Patail’s replacement Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Najb of corruption. Mahathir has already suspended Apandi.
Social media are awash with comments about the police raids on properties linked to Najib. While some Malaysians have said they feel sorry for Najib and consider that he is not being treated with sufficient respect, others are eager to see the former prime minister brought to book.
“Political revenge is when you slam your opponents in jail because they disagreed with you,” one person tweeted. “When you investigate a world renowned kleptocrat, it’s called doing your job.”
The PKR MP Nurul Izzah, who is Anwar’s eldest daughter, criticised the police for carrying out late-night raids at Najib’s private residence, but was in turn criticised by those who support the swift action of the authorities.
Travel bans lifted
The travel ban that prevented Nurul Izzah and the former opposition MP Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, from travelling to the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo have been lifted by the newly appointed Sabah Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal.
Tian Chua, who had held the Batu parliamentary seat since 2008, was disqualified by the EC’s returning officer from seeking re-election on the grounds that he was fined 2,000 ringgit (about 500 US$) for insulting a policeman in 2007.
The federal constitution disqualifies anyone from standing as an election candidate for five years after being sentenced to more than a year’s jail, or a fine of more than 2,000 ringgit.
Tian Chua’s was one of the cases that the Bersih 2.0 Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections cited in its list of ten “electoral crimes” that it says the Election Commission (EC) committed during the 14th general election (GE14).
“The EC has acted against a court ruling which declared that Tian Chua is not disqualified as a Member of Parliament and is eligible to stand for elections,” Bersih stated.
The Batu seat was contested, and won by 22-year-old independent P. Prabakaran, who is now Malaysia’s youngest MP.
The travel ban against cartoonist and activist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, has also been lifted.
The founder of the Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak, Clare Rewcastle Brown, who was persona non grata during Najib’s rule, is now free to move in and out of Malaysia, and is currently in the country on a visit.
Rewcastle Brown, who was born in Sarawak to British parents and now lives in England, has been unflinching in her publication of revelations about 1MDB.
In 2015, an arrest warrant was issued against her for committing offences alleged to be “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
She says she has been assured that the charges are being dropped, and Interpol is no longer being notified that Malaysia wants her extradition.
The Sarawak Report website is now directly accessible in Malaysia again after being blocked for more than two years.
“Malaysia’s hunt for its missing billions will plainly span the globe and demand forensic trails, not just of the Najib family but of their cronies, who once again were reported to be exporting vast sums of cash in the run up to GE14,” Rewcastle Brown writes in an article for the Sarawak Report entitled “How Rosmah Has Made Imelda Look Like A Cheapskate Amateur …”, published last week.
The headline refers to Imelda Marcos, the widow of the former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.
President from 1965 to 1986, Marcos ruled as dictator under martial law from 1972 until 1981 before being forced from office and fleeing the country in 1986.
When protestors stormed the Malacanang Palace, more than 2,700 pairs of shoes were discovered in Imelda’s wardrobe.
Najib and Rosmah have been heavily criticised for their lavish lifestyle. Rosmah once famously lamented the 1,200 ringgit (about US$300) she had to spend on house calls by stylists coming to dye her hair, and the amount she had to pay tailors.
People were outraged when, in comments in 2014, Najib said people who complained about the rising cost of living did not credit the government for the falling prices of food such as kangkung (water spinach). While he eats quinoa, Najib was essentially telling Malaysians to go eat spinach.
In his first press conference after his release, Anwar said there was a new dawn for Malaysia.
He said he didn’t want his own incarceration to be the central point of actions against Razak. Rather, the focus needed to be “the issue of injustice towards the people, crime committed against the people, [and] endemic corruption that has become the culture in this country”.
In an interview with the Financial Times, he said that the central issues for the new government were governance and democratic accountability.
“We can’t have an election commission involved in fraudulent exercise; we can’t have the judiciary acting at the behest of the government; we can’t have the media that has been cowed.”
In a blog post entitled ”A Passion for Democracy”, former ambassador Dennis Ignatius praised the new prime minister.
“Mahathir himself never ceases to amaze me,” Ignatius wrote. “He has shown an incredible propensity to accommodate and placate different views within the PH coalition.
“More importantly, he is displaying great humility in listening to the views of the people, keeping what’s worth keeping and gently blowing the rest away.”
The lengthy campaign to dislodge Najib connected and bonded Mahathir to ordinary people in a unique way, Ingatuis says. “He knows their heart and is determined to deliver on his promises. It is the true measure of the man.”
Ignatius says it is amazing to see Malaysians finding their voice and getting actively engaged in the political process.
“For better or worse, everyone, it seems, has an opinion and is not afraid to express it.
“Witness how animated they got when one of their PKR heroes was thought to be undermining Pakatan Harapan (PH) unity. Or their immediate disapproval of UMNO-BN members trying to sneak into PH.”
For too long, Ignatuis says, the rakyat (the people) had suffered under an unresponsive and uncaring government. Now he, says, they are relishing their new found freedom.
The headline photo shows, from left to right, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, and Muhyiddin Yassin taking their oaths of office. (Photo: AFP/Maszuandi Adnan/Department of Information.)
The MH370 family support group Voice370 said in a statement: “We draw comfort from the fact that many leaders of the new political formation now in government have been strong and constant supporters and sympathizers of Voice 370 and the #SearchOn Campaign over the last four years and are well aware of the hopes and hardships experienced by us.”
Voice370 urged the new government to include the following as part of its agenda in the next 100 days:
- a comprehensive review of all matters related to the disappearance of MH370, especially the release of all relevant documents such as the full cargo manifest;
- an investigation into any possible falsification and or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance; and
- a further investigation and inquiry into any act or omission across the entire spectrum of operations that may have impaired tracking, search, rescue, and recovery.
“We also hope, like with other recent matters, Malaysia will be more open to sharing MH370-related information with other international governments, bodies, and agencies in order to allow a complete and thorough review to take place,” Voice370 said.
“We also call upon the government to engage Voice370 in ongoing dialogue and consultations regarding the search and investigation into MH370, and on issues related to the well-being of the families, especially if the current search bears no fruit.”
It is reported that the search for MH370 that is being conducted by the American private seabed exploration company, Ocean Infinity, in the southern Indian Ocean will end next Tuesday (May 29).
The Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity agreed that the search would be conducted on a “No Cure No Fee” basis.