A new dawn or an eclipse in Malaysian politics?

The partial pardon of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak which provided a 50 percent discount on his 12 jail term and a 76 percent discount has been hogging Malaysian news headlines since 2 February when the official statement from the Pardons Board was finally released.

Channel News Asia had first broke the story as early as 31 January regarding the double discounts.

When one looks at political landscape of Malaysia, it has been highly politicised with both government and opposition hammering one another. The battles are even extended to the courts. It is not limited to the legislative assemblies.

Supporters of the government regard their opponents with terms such as ‘walaun’ whereas the opposition supporters term their opponents ‘walanon’.

The plight of the ordinary gain limelight through government initiatives and when the media put them under the spotlight.

Would this episode bring about a new dawn or an eclipse in Malaysian politics?

Analysts and observers

Analysts who spoke to the Singapore based international media company said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is set to benefit from the partial pardon.

“Even if some of the PH supporters are not happy with the reduction in sentence, it is far more acceptable than a pardon,” he added.

“For UMNO, this would show that the unity government has helped out Najib slightly even if it was not a full pardon. That would assuage the feelings of many hardcore supporters of Najib within UMNO,” said Ong Kian Ming of Taylor’s University, CNA reported.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan called it a win-win situation.

“It’s good for Anwar and the unity government as Najib supporters in UMNO will be happy, and Pakatan Harapan supporters who say Najib should be incarcerated will also be happy that Najib will be incarcerated for (a few more) years,” Dr Azmi said.

James Chin of Tasmania University, Australia was spot on regarding the backlash.

“I think there will be a very strong social media backlash among the urban people, but it will die down very quickly especially among the Malay groups, because they will say that this is the Malay king’s prerogative,” he told CNA.

“And in Malaysia, if you go against the Malay king, it is seen as sedition.”

United for Rights of Malaysian Party’s (Urimai) interim council chairman P. Ramasamy meanwhile said that the sentence reduction is a political bonus for opposition coalition – Perikatan Nasional.

“Najib’s sentence reduction makes a mockery of the justice system in the country. This is despite the fact there are other pending corruption cases against Najib,” he said in a statement yesterday, reported Malay Mail.

He blamed Anwar even though Anwar wasn’t part of the Pardon’s Board.

“Anwar cannot wiggle out of the responsibility in sentence reduction of Najib. He should stop passing the buck,” he said, adding that members of the board include high-ranking civil servants including the attorney general who was appointed by Anwar.

“The question now is whether the opposition will capitalise on the reduction of Najib’s sentence for its political buoyancy,” he said.

Overlooked voters

One aspect that has often been overlooked is the ordinary voters. Voter sentiments determine the next government in the 16th general election that would be held by 2027.

To bring about meaningful change, political parties would need two terms in office, which is equivalent to 10 years.

Though Chin pointed out the strong social media backlash is limited to urban people, and a former prime minister is known to have said ‘Melayu mudah lupa’ (Malays forget easily), it may not be the case anymore.

The proliferation of social media has enabled the people to remind those in urban and rural settings of the transgression of those who are holding power.

Rebuttals after rebuttals can be made but transgressions are remembered, denials and rebuttals are not.

Hence, it is vital for Anwar to explain this issue to the people. Explaining the matter to Al-Jazeera (Arabic) is not necessary.

Address the issue with the young voters during Temu Anwar sessions with university students.

PKR’s communication wing must address this issue when they engage their members at division and branch levels since they are the ones facing the questions of the people, the most.

At the federal level, the Communications Ministry and J-Kom needs to buck up in addressing this issue via different channels.


The partial pardon has eroded the faith of the people in the prime minister of the day. It also makes the judiciary a joke. Not only voters are disturbed, foreign investor confidence may also be affected.

Most importantly, it would also impact Anwar’s premiership. People voted for a new dawn but the pardon appears to be a sign that there may be an eclipse at dawn.