‘Cleaning up’ after Mr. Clean April 3, 2007Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Malaysia, Note2Self, Politics, Readings.
Completely missed out on this earlier. Feel even more depressed than the Machap ‘joke’/story after reading this.
Mar 22nd 2007 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
Sleaze saps the prime minister’s election prospects
CHEERY statements on the economy by Malaysian ministers and the pro-government press are prompting speculation that the prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, will call an election this year, even though he need not do so until 2009. The economy is doing fairly well—although economists think growth will be perhaps 5.5% this year, not 6% as the government predicts. However, hanging over Mr Badawi is his failure to keep his promise to curb official corruption. Two surveys out this month suggest that little progress is being made on this front. Worse, some big sleaze scandals have broken, suggesting that the rot reaches close to the top.
The man who is supposed to lead the clean-up, Zulkipli Mat Noor, the head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), has himself been accused of illicit enrichment by a former underling. In a separate case, a deputy police minister is accused of taking bribes to set criminal suspects free. Mr Badawi has rejected calls to suspend the two officials while the allegations, which both deny, are investigated.
If all this were not disturbing enough, a gruesome murder case involving a government adviser, due in court in June, may prove even more incendiary. Two members of an elite police unit are accused of killing a Mongolian fashion model, whose corpse was apparently blown up with explosives. Abdul Razak Baginda, a political analyst, is accused of abetting them. Mr Razak Baginda is close to Mr Badawi’s deputy as prime minister, Najib Razak, who also oversees the police unit in question. Though Mr Najib has not been accused of any wrongdoing, there is speculation that the trial could force his resignation.
It is widely believed that Mr Badawi doubts his deputy’s loyalty, and many observers think he might not be too downcast to see a potential challenger brought down. None of the present rash of scandals has cast doubt on Mr Badawi’s own integrity. Even so, the rising tide of sleaze seems likely to leave a permanent stain on his reputation as a reformer.
A survey this month by PERC, a Hong Kong-based consultancy, shows that while some neighbouring countries—Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines but not squeaky-clean Singapore—are seen as even more graft-ridden, corruption is perceived to have worsened in Malaysia since last year. The prime minister has brushed such fears aside, insisting that 85% of corruption allegations prove baseless. But in truth few are properly investigated, and even when cases do reach court, proceedings can drag on for years. Mohamad Ramli Manan, the ACA inspector making accusations against his boss, has also alleged that he was earlier sidelined for refusing to drop a case against a former cabinet minister, Kasitah Gaddam, whose corruption trial has rolled on for two years.
A survey this month by Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, hinted at one explanation why so few cases are cleared. It showed that both the public and businessmen see the police as by far the most corrupted institution (see chart). From business’s point of view, only political parties come close (though the public, which should presumably reap the benefits, has not noticed). Reforming the police is another of Mr Badawi’s broken promises. Two years ago, a royal commission he set up called for an independent police-complaints body. But the force’s chiefs objected. So far they have had their way, despite sharply rising crime—murders increased by 22% last year.
Mr Badawi’s governing coalition has a strong electoral machine, while the opposition remains split between Islamists and secularists. So Mr Badawi is most unlikely to lose the election, whenever he calls it. His main threat is from plotters on his own benches, who might be tempted to move against him if public anger at sleaze and crime deprives him of the big majority he won in the last election, in 2004.