Seen from a distance, what is Prof James Chin’s take on Najib’s commuting sentence?

ON X (formerly Twitter), Prof James Chin responded to the news of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s commuted sentence with just a one-line statement: “Nothing to see. We know already. Move on …”

Channel News Asia (CNA) immediately took the cue and interviewed the Professor of Asian Studies at University of Tasmania to find out what his take was on Najib’s commutation.

Looking at Malaysia from a distance, Chin has a bigger picture on the latest development on the Pardons Board helmed by the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) Sultan Abullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. FocusM contacted him recently to find out more on his view on the clemency announced by the Pardons Board.

The bottom line, as Chin pointed out, is that most surveys showed that 90% of the people surveyed want Najib to serve the full jail sentence.

The 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) scandal has placed Malaysia in very bad light with the country reeling from huge debts incurred by him and the other collaborators. Because Anwar has pitched the reform agenda to the population who voted for him, people expect him now to deliver his promises.

“However, Anwar’s power,” he said, “is not enough to implement wholesome reform. For institutional reforms, you need to amend some of the laws to begin with. Secondly, you need to put the right people in place.”

What this means is that the reforms to the Pardons Board, for example, may require more than an amendment to the Federal Constitution since this involves the prerogatives of the Conference of Malay rulers.

On why Anwar has not met the expectations of the people who wanted to see reforms, Chin opined that Malaysians’ expectation of Anwar is “too high and unrealistic”.

“Because Anwar did not win majority of the Malay votes in the 15th General Election (GE15), people understood that the whole government was trying to win back the Malay votes,” he observed.

“For the first several months of his administration, the whole government was distracted by the state elections in August 2023. He was only back to the middle path in the past four to five months.

“Hence, I would cut Anwar some slack instead of judging him too severely as we all know that for the first seven months of his administration, the entire government was on the election footing.”

No Third Force

At the same time, Chin said “there are definitely political forces in the country that are trying to topple Anwar but it is hard for anyone to pin him down at the present moment because he has two-thirds majority.”

The main opponents in the game are Perikatan Nasional (PN) members and the hidden hands working behind the scene to topple Anwar to save themselves from the possibility of ending up in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) dragnet.

Nevertheless, Chin dismissed the idea of a Third Force. “People in the past have tried to bring in the Third Force but it really has not worked in Malaysia. With the rise of political Islam and stronger ethnic-based voting in Malaysia, it is more difficult for the Third Force to rise,” he opined.

The best hope is for a two-and-half instead of Third Force. In short, it is a smaller force between two stronger coalitions. By the way, the Borneo bloc is such a force.”

For a very long time, the country was run by only one major coalition with the rest being considered anti-Barisan Nasional (BN). However, Anwar’s reformasi movement has changed the political landscape from 2008 through 2018.

The last general election in November 2022 has marked the shift towards a unity government instead of either BN or Pakatan Harapan (PH).

When PH formed the federal government with Bersatu in 2018, the coalition lasted only for 22 months until the Sheraton Move in 2020.

The then prime minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed that he was not a party to the Sheraton Move but subsequent audio recordings of the meeting with Bersatu went viral showing that Dr Mahathir was complicit of the fiasco.

The unity government has seen another shift in the country’s politics within the past one year whereby Anwar has to walk on a tight rope.

Chin, however, has the good news for Malaysians. He reckoned that it is highly unlikely that the opposition is able to use the Agong to topple the government this year. “The Sultan of Johor has hinted that he will not be a party to any change of government in his interview with the Singapore Straits Times.” – Feb 8, 2024

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