As institutional reform is still not yet in place, PM Mahathir has exercised his unchecked power to appoint Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Beebi Koya as the new MACC chief commissioner.
The move has since sparked tremendous outcry in the Malaysian society, fearing that Mahathir’s power will continue to go unchecked and nullify Pakatan Harapan’s effort over the past one year.
Latheefa’s appointment on the sole discretion of Mahathir has contravened PH’s election manifesto which among others included a complete end to political appointments.
Latheefa used to be sitting on PKR’s supreme council and chairing the party’s legal affairs bureau.
It is therefore hardly convincing if her appointment has not been politically motivated.
PH has also pledged that the appointment of key personnel in Suhakam, MACC, Election Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission will have to seek the approval of a national-level committee.
Latheefa’s appointment was a tad worse, as other PH allies had not been consulted.
Mahathir’s autocratic move has once again dealt a severe blow on the PH administration’s credibility, and yet the other PH allies were powerless in stopping him.
PKR president Anwar Ibrahim’s response has been largely impertinent, while the DAP leadership has remained tight-lipped.
Is PH’s internal consultation mechanism crippled? Or the prime minister was too confident that none of his allies would have the guts to go against him?
For what reasons did Mahathir make the decision to appoint Latheefa? There are two possibilities, either it was set out as a tactic to stop Anwar from becoming PM, or he could not wait any longer and needed to put in someone capable of wiping out corruption swiftly.
The conspiracy theory has popped up because Latheefa has always been a strong supporters of PKR’s deputy president Azmin Ali and has hit out unreservedly at Anwar and Wan Azizah.
As such, her appointment as MACC chief is naturally perceived as a victory for Azmin, giving conspiracy theory advocates and the opposition a good reason to accuse Mahathir of trying to split PKR and block Anwar’s rise to premiership.
Any enforcement authority will need to have solid evidences in order to stop Anwar from becoming PM. If such evidences were indeed existent, they would have been exploited by Nazib.
Unless Mahathir will go any length to advance his motive — including bringing down the PH regime — he will never orchestrate a plot like this.
Time will tell whether the conspiracy theory is substantiated.
The second speculation is that Mahathir was impressed by Latheefa’s strong character and political inclination and wanted her to dig into all the corrupt practices during Najib’s time, including the allegation that PAS accepted RM90 million of political donation from Najib.
MACC has spent so much time on the investigation of PAS but so far there has been no solid proof. Outgoing MACC chief Mohd Shukri Abdull said in February this year that MACC had yet to trace the alleged RM90 million donation said to be from 1MDB, in PAS’ bank accounts.
Mahathir responded by saying that MACC needed more time to get all the particulars in place.
Apparently MACC needed a new chief commissioner, not just more time.
Shukri made the first wrong move soon after assuming office. The claim he made in a press conference that he was facing threats in 2016 could have an impact on future trial of the 1MDB case.
Shukri’s weakness and lack of strong leadership might not meet Mahathir’s criteria.
Mahathir cannot wait any longer to replace the MACC chief because he only has one more year to go before handing over the baton, according to the agreement reached. He has to make sure all corruption pertaining to the previous BN administration is fully investigated during his tenure to ensure PH’s victory in the next general elections.
Additionally, he also needs a powerful corruption-busting team for his National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023.
Mahathir opted to bypass the cabinet probably because he was worried his plan would be vetoed and delayed.
He admitted that it took him quite some time to look for a suitable alternative. He did not want a new chief commissioner who is neutral and has no political background. All he wanted was a heavy-handed enforcer who vows to weed out corruption.
Given his character and style, he would rather act first and inform the world only after the appointment was granted royal consent by the King.
Unfortunately such a dictatorial move has put him under tremendous public censure while deepening internal conflicts within the ruling coalition.
Latheefa is capable, courageous and well versed in the law but without administrative experience. Mahathir is making another bet again.
Whatever the motive of her appointment, what is foreseeable is that the appointment will throw in additional factors of uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the opposition will become more fearful, as Latheefa is even tougher than her predecessor.