Anwar’s anti-graft drive means little with Zahid still in cabinet

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

So long as Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is flanked by his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, there will always be scepticism in the government’s commitment towards weeding out corruption. – Facebook pic, January 7, 2024.

SINCE ascending to the top job, Anwar Ibrahim has been accused, sometimes unfairly, for trying to be a prime minister who wants the best of both worlds but ends up appeasing no one.

The promise and commitment to a more diverse and fairer Malaysia where no Malaysian would be left out regardless of race and religion has obviously won him a huge swathe of minority support as opposed to his political opponents.

And yet, the responsibility of actually governing a country has brought out a very different Anwar who has often yielded to Perikatan Nasional’s brand of ethno-religious politics with the sole purpose of pandering to the conservative votes.

However, it is with the idea of good governance that the prime minister is not willing to give in nor compromise.

Good governance is the hill that Anwar is willing to die on and at times, what his Madani government comes to represent.

In almost every speech, the prime minister would never miss the opportunity to talk about good governance and another chance to chide the previous administration’s alleged corruption and leakages.

Under this prime minister, it almost feels like corruption is the only policy this government has vouched for.

This is why the prime minister and his Madani government appear to be the most formidable when the issue of the day revolves around anti-graft, especially when former ministers are probed or charged.

The PKR rank and file are most elated when the integrity of political opponents like Muhyiddin Yassin and Wan Saiful Wan Jan was questioned when they were charged with abusing their position when Bersatu was in power.

The same could also be applied to Daim Zainuddin where his prized property, Ilham Tower, was recently seized by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

According to the anti-graft agency, the seizure was due to Daim’s refusal to comply with requests from MACC to disclose the financial holding of both himself and his family under corruption and money laundering probe.

Any government that is willing to confront its past and show zero tolerance against any abuse of power and corruption should be applauded, but the probing of Daim would definitely invite suspicion that would cast doubt on the entire exercise.

Ever since he was first elected as an MP in 1982, Daim was a close ally of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the latter had valued the former as an intellectual guru, close confidante and an indispensable comrade in politics.

It was Daim’s market liberalism that proved instrumental in influencing the then prime minister Mahathir Mohammad in spearheading the privatisation revolution during the 1980s.

When Mahathir did the unthinkable by sacking his deputy cum finance minister Anwar, he made no hesitation that the successor of the finance portfolio must now be someone the prime minister could completely trust.

It was Daim who answered the call and he was responsible for steadying the ship during the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis and was happily doing the prime minister’s bidding until 2001.

Unlike many political friendships, the relationship of Mahathir and Daim was also a lasting affair when the now recluse businessman once again answered the call from the elder statesman to lead the “Council of Eminent Persons” advisory body when Pakatan Harapan first took power in 2018.

Most crucially, Daim was the only person Mahathir could rely upon to renegotiate with China over the East Coast Rail Link project in 2019, a prestigious and critical task that should have been headed by a cabinet minister and therefore be accountable to the executive and parliament.

Given the falling-out between the Anwar and Mahathir, it is understandable that the public might interpret this anti-graft exercise as the prime minister’s personal vendetta against Mahathir’s faction.

Sceptics may even have construed the seizure of Ilham Tower as the final political warning to the nonagenarian Mahathir. The seizure has also led to conspiracy theories that it might have something to do with the alleged role Daim played in the much discussed “Dubai Move”.

It is rather unfortunate that the current administration’s commitment to holding the powerful to account has been questioned and relegated to an act of political survival.

However, that again is difficult to comprehend when the prime minister has a political albatross in the form of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who was acquitted from corruption charges on flimsy grounds.

It is certainly a Madani irony that the prime minister who talks about having no tolerance to corruption and yet tolerating a deputy whose commitment to clean governance is very much in doubt by the public.

As long as the prime minister is flanked by Zahid during cabinet meetings, I am afraid there will always be scepticism in this government’s anti-graft commitment, regardless of how sincere and ideological Anwar is in his crusade against corruption and leakages. – January 7, 2024.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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