by Corruption Watch
Two years ago, thousands of angry Malaysians voted out the corrupt government of the disgraced ex-prime minister Najib Razak, who recorded the lowest popular vote in Malaysia’s history at 36 percent.
It was an embarrassing, well-deserved landslide electoral defeat. After recently marking the second anniversary of the rakyat‘s stunning triumph at the ballot box, it’s useful to turn the lens backward and consider Najib’s legacy. Najib’s 1MDB scandal was one of the largest financial frauds in Asian history, but that is not all: After reviewing the evidence, one can only conclude that Najib’s permanent legacy is weakness.
National peace and prosperity are difficult for any government to accomplish, but it was even more difficult for an incompetent politician like Najib.
First, Najib weakened the Malaysian economy: Najib was ranked as Asia’s worst finance minister by Finance Asia Magazine for good reason: Under his watch, the Malaysian ringgit currency plunged to a 16-year low, Malaysia’s GNI per capita dropped to record depths, and the economy racked up some of the worst household debt levels in all of Asia.
The World Bank repeatedly criticised Najib’s government for pushing Malaysia into the middle-income trap, let alone for creating an education system incapable of supporting the economy. Indeed, 77 percent of the Malaysian workforce possessed only SPM-level education or lower. Under Najib’s watch, in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) academic examination, Malaysian students scored poorly as the second-worst students in Asia.
As the artist Sheila Majid famously pointed out, GST and the cost of living under Najib skyrocketed, and the lack of good jobs that contributed to Malaysians’ economic struggles. For example, a Bank Negara survey showed that under Najib’s watch, three out of four Malaysians found it difficult to raise even RM1,000 (US $300) for an emergency.
While Najib jabbered vague slogans like “People First, Performance Now,” “the New Economic Model,” and “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” his government ministers and civil servants frequently missed their own economic targets, and the size of Malaysia’s entire economy was still smaller than the U.S. state of Wisconsin. Meanwhile, he selectively quoted and omitted bad news from economic reports, and The Economist Magazineranked Malaysia as second only to Russia on its Crony Capitalism Index. Later, investigative journalists discovered that Najib had tried to bail himself out of his 1MDB scandal by selling out his own country to China’s debt trap.
Today, Najib has a paralysing fear of prison. He knows that the judges and prosecutors are closely examining the evidence for his financial crimes, and that his acquittal in court is not guaranteed.
Time Magazine listed Najib as one of the world’s most unpopular heads of state because of his consistently weak approval ratings. He could not clearly communicate to the rakyat, nor he could not earn the citizens’ trust. His incompetent mismanagement of both Malaysian Airlines’ crises was almost universally mocked and ridiculed. Worse, Najib couldn’t tahan the fact that Mahathir Mohamed and Anwar Ibrahim were the more popular leaders.
Najib also revealed his many other weaknesses: His avoidance of the “Nothing to Hide” public debate, throwing temper tantrums and storming out of interviews when he couldn’t handle international journalists’ questions, his trembling submission to U.S. President Donald Trump in his failed visit to Washington, his cowardice under his materialistic wife’s “advice”, and his nervous begging to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to lie to save his stepson Riza Aziz from the U.S. Department of Justice– a request that the prince rejected, and that the Malaysian Anti-corruption Commission (MACC) recorded and publicly released.
Arresting critics and attempting to pass Fake News Laws was also Najib’s sign of weakness, not power. Najib’s global reputation was also weak: because of his poor international credibility and status, on at least five occasions, Najib appeared to be ignored by world leaders on the international stage.
All in all, US$681 million of the public’s stolen billions were redirected into Najib’s personal bank account. The Malaysian police also seized US$273 million in cash, jewelry, and hundreds of designer handbags from Najib’s and his family’s houses around Kuala Lumpur. Najib then tried to claim that his family’s massive haul of loot was a collection of “gifts” from other government officials, which triggered howls of belly laughter from most Malaysians.
During Najib’s rule, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer found that Malaysian’s trust in the Barisan Nasional (BN) government declined to their worst levels. Immediately after Najib and BN were finally booted out of Putrajaya, Malaysians’ trust levels shot up by 9 percentage points.
Najib may imagine himself to be a strong leader, but he single-handedly caused the BN regime to lose their 60-year grip on Malaysia. Worse, because of Najib’s numerous economic scandals, Malaysia became synonymous with corruption.
None of these are disputed facts.
Even with the current fragile Perikatan Nasional backdoor government, Najib is still legally blocked from departing the country. Indeed, Najib is still required to show up to courts for his unpaid RM1.69 billion in income taxes, his SRC scandal, his 1MDB scandal, and his other financial crimes. Currently, he also has almost no fans who are willing to show up to publicly defend him.
However, he and his materialistic family members were repeatedly given stern warnings about their thefts by SarawakReport, The Wall Street Journal, and even the U.S. Justice Department, so most Malaysians will roll their eyes and offer him zero sympathy.
Najib was a weak man to begin with. Unfortunately, he made Malaysia a weaker country: economically, geopolitically, and strategically. Malaysians are still paying for Najib’s countless failures– which highlights the truism that real leaders must serve their people– not the reverse.
Corruption Watch is a reader of SarawakReport