Almost a decade ago, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal rocked Malaysia, revealing a vast embezzlement of billions of dollars. The fallout from this scandal was expected to mark a turning point in Malaysian politics, with a united front against corruption. However, recent developments have shown that the legacy of 1MDB still haunts Malaysia, leading to a resurgence of identity politics and a growing disillusionment among the populace regarding the government’s ability to combat corruption effectively.
The 1MDB scandal triggered nationwide discussions about corruption, leading to a rare consensus among Malaysians, regardless of their racial backgrounds, against this pervasive issue. The electorate was unified in its demand for a clean and transparent government. The watershed general election in 2018 saw the ousting of the Barisan Nasional coalition, which had ruled Malaysia for over six decades, and the rise of Pakatan Harapan, a coalition that campaigned heavily on eliminating corruption.
Since then, anti-corruption rhetoric has continued to dominate Malaysian politics. Leaders have made promises to tackle corruption head-on. Prime Ministerial candidate Anwar Ibrahim presented himself as the country’s savior from corrupt politics, emphasizing the need to reject corrupt leaders. When Anwar took office in a Unity Government last November, corruption was at the top of his reformist agenda. He ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations, highlighting the improper decision-making processes.
Anti-Corruption Drive or Political Maneuvering?
Despite years of anti-corruption pledges, the actual results have been underwhelming. While numerous charges have been filed against politicians, very few convictions have materialized. This week’s decision by the Malaysian High Court to drop 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid, who is also the president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has raised concerns and sparked public outcry. Similar favorable court decisions on corruption charges involving former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Najib Razak have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to eradicating corruption.
Anwar’s Unity Government and Its Challenges
The recent dropping of charges against Zahid has also raised questions about Anwar’s Unity Government, which includes UMNO, a party with a tainted history related to the 1MDB scandal. Anwar’s alignment with UMNO has led to criticisms, and it has been challenging for the government to regain the moral high ground on corruption. This shift in political dynamics has not resonated with younger voters, as evident in Pakatan Harapan’s struggle to secure support in recent elections.
The 1MDB scandal initially united Malaysians against corruption, but recent developments have caused disillusionment. The resurgence of identity politics and the lack of convictions in high-profile corruption cases have eroded the public’s faith in the government’s anti-corruption efforts. As Malaysia continues to grapple with the legacy of 1MDB, the nation faces the challenge of rebuilding public trust and addressing the growing cynicism regarding its ability to combat corruption effectively.