No offence too small
But a multi-billion-dollar scandal does not seem to bother it much
“UNDEMOCRATIC”, “gerrymandered” and “fix-up” are good words to describe Malaysian politics, dominated since independence by a single party. So it was a bit rich for the prime minister’s spokesman to employ them when smearing a big opposition group this month. On July 7th the national registrar confirmed that it had detected irregularities in a leadership ballot which the Democratic Action Party (DAP) conducted almost four years ago, and said it would be asking the party to re-run the poll. The DAP’s supporters saw an effort to sow discord among the opposition, ahead of a general election due by next August.
Critics of the United Malays National Organisation, which has led Malaysia’s government for six decades, are used to run-ins with the authorities. Prosecutors have twice brought charges of sodomy against Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition coalition, who began his second jail term in 2015. Lately police have also taken an interest in Lim Guan Eng, the DAP’s secretary-general and chief minister of the state of Penang, an opposition stronghold. Mr Lim is awaiting trial on two charges of corruption (prosecutors allege that he used his authority to buy a bungalow for less than it was worth).
Meanwhile in late June the government announced that it was opening a national inquiry into big losses incurred by Malaysia in the early 1990s, when the central bank indulged in risky currency trades. The decision to dredge up this old saga supposedly has nothing to do with the dramatic return to politics of Mahathir Mohamad, who was prime minister at the time. Now 92, Dr Mahathir says he has lost confidence in his old party and joined hands with the opposition. The speculation is that he will serve as prime minister in the event of their victory (at least for as long as it would take to secure a royal pardon allowing Mr Anwar to take the job instead).
Given the zeal of Malaysia’s watchdogs and corruption-busters, it seems odd that they have yet to find anyone responsible for the disappearance of billions of dollars from 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm set up shortly after Najib Razak, the current prime minister, took office. Government investigators in America have applied to seize around $1.5bn-worth of goodies bought with money they say was siphoned from the firm; a court in Singapore this week sentenced a banker to four-and-a-half years in jail in connection with the scandal. Swiss investigators are also on the case. But Malaysia has convicted only one person: a whistle-blowing MP who leaked documents relating to the affair and who belongs — would you believe it? — to an opposition party.