When Najib Razak was sworn in as Malaysia's leader in mid-2009, his premiership was marked by spectacular promises of reform. He committed to tackling poverty, restructuring Malaysian society and promoting public service. Then came the riveting, still resonant 1MDB scandal
followed by the stunning defeat of his long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government in May's general election
. Widely reviled as the country's worst-ever leader, he was ejected from his party's presidency, barred from leaving the country and charged with crimes under Malaysia's Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act. Police raided his home and hauled away boxes of cash, jewelry, handbags, watches and other valuables amounting to nearly US$275 million. It was all part of an investigation into how billions of dollars went missing from the country's 1MDB investment fund. Najib's entry into politics came in 1976. The national outpouring of grief following the death of Abdul Razak helped Najib win election unopposed as a member of parliament at the age of 23.
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As the son of a former prime minister, he was coddled by successive prime ministers including current incumbent Mahathir Mohammad. His political pedigree opened doors at both party and government levels and he rose in the ranks of successive cabinets, attaining the role of deputy prime minister in 2004. After a poor showing by the ruling coalition in the 2008 elections in which opposition parties gained control of five of 13 Malaysian state governments, Najib was identified as the next prime minister. He succeeded Abdullah Badawi when he resigned in March 2009. He immediately began to sharpen the practice of wedge politics, and partisan racial and religious disagreements, hitherto always in the background, began to fester. He hoped conservative Muslim concerns about keeping non-Muslims in their place would prevent a massive defection of voters from his coalition. Pursuing his Muslims-first strategy, he reshaped Malaysian politics. In an attempt to shore up support for his coalition government as his popularity waned in the wake of the 1MDB scandal and reports that hundreds of millions of dollars had flowed into his personal bank account, he and his advisers believed the time was ripe to weaponize Islam for political survival. Najib wooed the Islamist political party PAS
. He indicated he would support their agenda of changing the direction of the liberal multicultural and multireligious country toward a more conservative Islamic state. His United Malays National Organisation establishment, determined to preserve its power and privilege, acquiesced to the strategy that included a sweeping reorganization and consolidation of domestic policymaking in the executive branch. Most believed he would do the same — disappear — at least from politics and the public glare after his coalition's disastrous election result. He hasn't. Najib and his supporters have lost their way. The former prime minister's once promising political career is now in ruins and he and his legacy have reached the point of caricature. When his indictment on the first of a series of corruption-related offenses was read out on July 4 in court and he was asked, as he stood in the dock, how did he plead, he replied "I claim trial" in a barely audible voice. Since then, Najib, who remains a member of parliament, has not been shy about lecturing and mocking the new government about correct administrative practices as well as defending his own. This is nonsense. Where next from here? There are early signs of defiance from Najib and his defenders. They have called the charges "political" and that he is the victim of a witch hunt led by the new Malaysian administration. He has repeatedly tried to create cover stories to justify the amounts in his account and the valuables sized from his properties as somehow related to election campaigning. Those waiting for politicians to be held accountable can only hope that his story will be exposed as bogus and cause his constituents and supporters to re-examine their blind loyalty. By and large, the most typical response to Najib has been fury, disgust and disappointment. He is not obliged to quit his parliamentary seat if has not been found guilty in a court of law. There is no rule to automatically suspend an elected representative of the people, even if they have been charged with a serious offense. They can still influence the creation of laws. A police officer or even someone in the private sector, for instance, when charged with misconduct is placed on administrative leave or suspended. Perhaps it is time the same rule was applied to those holding elected office, especially when they have been charged with an offense. After all that has been revealed about the 1MDB scandal, the investigations by law enforcement agencies around the world and the accusation that he had reduced Malaysia from a democracy to a kleptocracy, Najib should not wait for suspension. He ought to do the honorable thing and resign. Having disgraced himself more thoroughly than his critics ever could, he does not deserve the honor and privilege of representing Malaysians anymore. By pretending that nothing important has happened, he is only undermining the basic values of Malaysians.