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Najib’s $24 million ask threatens Malaysia political stability

In this file photo taken on May 19, 2020,
Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak wears a face mask as he arrives for his corruption trial at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)

Former leader Najib Razak is at the center of controversy in Malaysia again, with his request for land and a house worth an estimated $24 million threatening to torpedo a truce between major political parties that has brought stability to the Southeast Asian nation.

The three-month-old government led by his ruling United Malays National Organization is now in the final stages of considering the request, which is a privilege granted to former prime ministers, Finance Minister Zafrul Abdul Aziz said Thursday. That didn’t sit well with the opposition, which said the property was worth 100 million ringgit ($24 million) – a figure that Zafrul didn’t deny.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he’s now reconsidering a confidence and supply agreement reached in September with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a move that ended months of political bickering and facilitated the passage on Thursday of the government’s 2022 budget during the first of multiple rounds of voting required in parliament

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he’s now reconsidering a confidence and supply agreement reached in September with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a move that ended months of political bickering and facilitated the passage on Thursday of the government’s 2022 budget during the first of multiple rounds of voting required in parliament. Now the opposition bloc is undecided on whether to continue supporting the spending plan, which doubles as a de facto confidence vote for the prime minister.

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“The cabinet’s act of ‘gifting’ land and a house to someone convicted by a court is clearly an immoral and nonsensical decision,” Anwar wrote on Facebook Thursday. “This extremely shocking decision” has forced his coalition to review its understanding with the government, he said.

The review risks throwing Malaysia into another round of political instability. In August, Ismail became Malaysia’s third prime minister in 18 months after the king determined he had the backing of 114 of the country’s 220 lawmakers. Najib had been instrumental in bringing down the previous administration, paving the way for UMNO to return to the top of the ruling coalition.

Najib’s request for the land came just days ahead of a crucial state election that could serve as a catalyst for the disgraced former premier to reinvent himself politically and his pro-Malay party to cement its power before a general election that must be held by 2023. Najib was Malaysia’s premier from 2009 until 2018, when his party suffered a shock defeat after he was implicated in a multibillion ringgit corruption scandal involving state fund 1MDB.

“I observe that an old script is being used to sow the people’s hatred against Najib for the Malacca state election,” Najib wrote on Facebook Thursday. “Suddenly, it’s given a price tag of 100 million ringgit, when in fact it is existing government land given to me to choose from under a government act. Not ordering the government to spend to purchase it for me.”

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Najib remains a lawmaker representing in his home state, and has since been rehabilitating his image through social media. A strong win in Malacca would galvanize him politically.

Reference