Where is Malaysia heading to? Where are the reforms?

When Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the position of Deputy Prime Minister, the Reformasi movement was borned and Anwar himself became the icon. It was a long journey for him, as it took decades for the movement to achieve electoral success.

In 2008, the Reformasi movement found the light at the end of the tunnel through Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) with the Reformasi icon joined forces with Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and made a historical change in Malaysia’s electoral history. DAP took charge by taking over the Penang state government, PAS leading to form the Kedah and Kelantan state governments, and with the strength of the PR coalition, they have also captured the Perak and Selangor state governments. 

After that victory in 12th general elections, many Malaysians found hope and probability of making positive changes in the government through the new coalition. PR, which subsequently changed to Pakatan Harapan (PH), promised to make massive reforms and continue giving hope to the people. Their performance in the elections have shown good results especially DAP which has been consistently getting full support from the voters. Finally in the 2018 elections, PH managed to form the federal government with none other than the force of political maverick Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, but was later toppled due to political uncertainties. 

Then in 2022, they took control of the federal government again, and this time ironically by joining forces with their all-time political opponent, Barisan Nasional (BN). BN, before the 2022 general elections then, was labelled as a corrupted party that misuse the power of the government, mismanage the country and their leaders should be put to jail. But, Malaysians were told that a PH-BN unity government was for the bigger picture of the country. By hook or by crook, they will need Anwar Ibrahim to be the Prime Minister to reform the country.

Well, of course Anwar managed to climb up to the top position, and later on, the President of UMNO, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM). Prior to that, it was already known that Ahmad Zahid was charged with 47 counts of graft which includes 8 counts of corruption, 12 counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT), and 27 counts of money laundering. 

After 77 days of trial over a course of 4 years, the DPM was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) on September 5, 2023. The Attorney-General (AG) of Malaysia uses his power to stop the proceedings on all 47 charges against the DPM, in line with Article 145 of the Federal Constitution and Section 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). Thus, the judge has no choice but to grant the DNAA.

It is a matter of fact that the proceedings have been conducted in a legal way, and the DNAA is sought through legal means. But we can see that in such a high profile case involving a No.2 government official of the country with such a huge sum of money involved, the ongoing court case can be easily stopped. It is questionable, but possible legally.

Let’s not forget that the AG is technically appointed by Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Since 1980, the AG’s Chambers falls under the placement of the Prime Minister’s Department. And who are the superiors in the Prime Minister’s Department? None other than the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers and the Deputy Ministers of the Prime Minister’s Department. In a way, the Deputy Prime Minister is also one of the bosses to the AG.

As to how much influence the PM has over AG, the excerpt from Tun Dr. Mahathir’s memoir, A Doctor in the House tells us. 

“By the time Tun Hussein had taken over as Prime Minister, Harun had been indicted but not yet jailed. I thought Tun Hussein would act strategically and garner political goodwill by not proceeding with the legal action against Harun. Thinking that he would at least be open to the idea, I met with him and suggested dropping the case. Strictly speaking, it should have been the Attorney-General’s decision, but the truth was the entire case was political. And in those days, the Prime Minister has a say in everything.”

– A Doctor in the House – Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Back then in the end of 1990s, Anwar, being the Reformasi icon, made claims that the AG had interfered in his sodomy trial. He ended up being jailed and the Pakatan Harapan coalition vowed to make reforms if he comes to power. The reforms that were needed include separating the Attorney-General from the executive arm of government. Unfortunately the powers of the AG today still remain the same as it was before.

So, where are the reforms? Where is institutional reform? Has the 1998 Reformasi movement died, or was it never a movement for reform, afterall? Was it just a movement to put one single person into power?