Spotlight - Malaysia: January 20, 2022
Another corruption scandal emerged in Malaysia over the holidays, highlighting the difficulty successive governments have had in putting an end to systematic abuse of power. The anti-corruption agency (MACC) chief commissioner Azam Baki is accused of having purchased about 2 million shares in publicly listed companies in 2015, well beyond the $24,000 equity limit civil servants are allowed to own. Azam is strongly denying the facts, claiming the shares were bought by his brother through Azam’s own account. So far, hearings by the MACC board and the Securities Commission have cleared Azam of any wrongdoing. The resignation of anti-corruption advisory board member Edmund Terence Gomez in protest seems to have had limited-to-no impact on the matter. The case raised questions from all sides of the political spectrum, and some argue this new controversy may be another political plot to undermine the MACC chief in a context where several politicians are, or have been, under the agency’s scrutiny.
Meanwhile, politics are still at play. State elections in Johor are believed to be announced after Lunar New Year. Rumor has it that the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) may take this opportunity to push for general elections to be held at the same time. Some would believe that the government’s mismanagement of recent severe nationwide floods would have rendered the party cautious about holding an early election. But some UMNO members perceive this controversy as having damaged the image of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri specifically. Other UMNO leaders are confident that their own political aura would allow their popularity to remain intact and ensure their victory, as well as the party’s. The opposition indeed has yet to come up with a new agenda, and possibly new leadership as the recent months have revealed disunion in the ranks of the opposition coalition and its leading party, Keadilan.
Sophie Lemière is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.