For nearly three years Malaysians absorbed with increasing disbelief the wholly unconvincing claims and excuses provided by the man dubbed by the US Department of Justice as ‘Malaysian Official One’, as he sought to deny a deluge of damning information published by the FBI.
There was, of course, a core of hardened UMNO followers, who were prepared to believe each changing story, mainly because it suited their other interests and personal prejudices to do so.
Najib’s ever altering explanations defied all the evidence available, in contrast to the forensic, fact-based approach of the American investigators, who nonetheless avoided naming him directly as the criminal orchestrator behind 1MDB.
Many believed right up till the last moment that this was a battle that Najib would win, including himself. On his side was the formidable wealth and machinery of Malaysia’s over-centralised and under-checked executive, plus a vast propaganda operation dedicated to denying all the overwhelming information that pointed to the massive looting of Malaysian public money.
Najib and his media and ‘cyber warfare’ units, merely had to keep pumping out positive propaganda that stroked the prejudices of a section of the population and denounce what people were reading in hitherto well-known and respected news publications as being merely “Fake News”.
Does any of this sound familiar, because Najib’s strategy failed?
In the event, the majority of the Malaysian people decided on something they had never done before, which was to back a total re-alignment of the country’s political spectrum, in order to boot out an administration that was plainly lying about enormous crimes.
Throughout all this extraordinary political drama the US law enforcers never took the step of directly accusing the head of Malaysia’s government – they just focused on identifying and exposing all the other key players who plainly answered to his instructions.
Many took this as a form of deference towards Malaysians’ independent and democratic right to choose their leadership, and it seems that analysis could well be right. Now, the same dynamic appears to be currently underway in the United States itself, where there is said to be a non-constitutional convention established amongst law enforcers not to directly target a current elected head of state.
As the former FBI head, James Comey (who was sacked by Donald Trump for opening an enquiry into evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia) put it, in the end what happens to Trump ought to be a ballot box decision by the American people. In other words, for now he is a somewhat sacrosanct figure for law enforcers, given he was the choice of the electoral college.
Meanwhile, the eyes of at least the majority of Americans are being well and truly opened and they have already elected a new House of Representatives with powers to impeach.
The published evidence against Trump is presently not for financial crimes, as with Najib, although considerable questions remain about his amassed wealth after the president failed to conform to his own promises of transparency. The prosecutors are now in a position to know.
The issues on the table are focused on whether Tump’s team, at his knowledge and behest, conspired to cheat the outcome of the last election, by paying women to lie about his affairs and even more shockingly by inviting hostile foreign hackers to attack his opponents and moreover to create confusion amongst electors by using a deluge of hostile, state-backed, subversive proganda prepared and paid for by a foreign power, namely Russia (i.e. genuine fake news!).
Trump has doubtless convinced some but probably not enough Americans, by saying that the latest awful revelations put into the US courts about the activities of his closest associates on Friday have proved him ‘innocent’. He has continued to launch blistering and aggressive tirades against critics (or ‘faint-hearts’ as he has described those who have turned state evidence) and has meanwhile by the day ratcheted up the hate campaigns that have satisfied so many amongst his ‘core vote’, who felt that ‘others’ were getting away with far too much in a more tolerant society that didn’t suit them.
For Malaysia-watchers these scenarios are highly reminiscent of the run up to GE14.
Like Najib, Trump appears to hope that his angry core voters, the kind of self-defined ‘supremacists’ that the likes of Najib resorted to inciting, will simply decide to ignore the distinction between right and wrong in order to exert a tribal message. That message, simply put, is who cares about the law or the shared values of all our great civilisations and religions, when one-upmanship of race, colour or creed are seen to be at stake?
Malaysians rejected it and united in favour of honest law enforcement. Will this small ’emerging’ nation provide the template for the world’s greatest super-power when it comes to dealing with potential rogue leaders?
The present fate of MO1 is certainly one for Individual 1 to contemplate as he decides on his ‘push back’ strategy over the coming months.