IT is my perception that the petition initiated by Umno for the grant of a free pardon to Datuk Seri Najib Razak from the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is a political strategy.
Najib’s supporters want him released from prison because he is an influential politician. They think that, during the next elections in six states in Peninsular Malaysia to be held sometime this year, he will be able to help sway voter support in favour of their party’s candidates.
To be really effective, he must be moving freely amongst them.
The end objective of the party itself is, of course, to remain a partner in power in the Unity Government. While in there, they want to claim credit for doing something about Najib’s freedom; they want to show to the public that they have a political clout in that government.
I think the men and women in Umno know that the normal process involved in seeking a free pardon for a prisoner from the King is set out in the Federal Constitution.
Yet they opt for a shortcut or what they thought would be an easier passage – gambling on Najib’s charisma – by announcing to the public their intention to go direct to the Istana.
If a direct appeal to the Ruler is allowed, it will develop into a norm of immense value to any politician in jail with a large following outside it.
If Umno can succeed via this channel, it is likely that other political parties in the country may follow suit. It seems that certain political leaders in this country belong to the class of citizens with a special privilege.
This is sending a wrong signal: it gives ideas to the Malaysian youths aspiring to be political leaders that to commit a crime while holding a political office would be all right.
There is a precedent ‘bah’! Commit a crime, never mind; the party will petition for a free pardon on your behalf!
If this is the kind of message that the advocates for direct appeal wish to send to the public at large, it certainly conveys to the general public that the party with the means to recruit a lot of supporters will get what they want in terms of putting pressure on the Pardons Board to decide in favour of release for their leader.
A request for a free pardon may be granted to a convict depending on the merits and demerits of each case. There have been a number of successful petitions for a Royal pardon but they all went through the due process.
Look at Article 42 of the Constitution. I don’t think the framers of the Constitution intended to allow a convict to appeal for a pardon by any other method than the existing procedure.
Neither have I spotted a proviso in the Federal Constitution that allows a direct appeal to the King, nor I have come across any provision in that Constitution conferring the King the right to grant free pardon just on the basis of the petition presented by a political party without the recommendation of the Pardons Board.
It seems that it is worth the while to form a political party for this purpose. Only seven promoters are required to present the proposal to form a political party for registration by the Registrar of Societies.
Or join one now, if the police or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission are after you. There will be a political organisation coming to your rescue.
Recruit thousands of members and form branches everywhere. The branch leaders will organise a signature campaign and everybody signs on the dotted line for a good cause!
I don’t encourage anybody to form a party with this objective, I must hereby qualify.
Convict with outstanding charge
What about a convict who has an outstanding charge (from the previous) which is yet to go on trial? What if the accused is found guilty of this other charge?
Another signature campaign, I suppose!
Let’s stick to one Pardons Board in each state or ‘wilayah’ (territory). This is the proper body through which any request for a royal pardon should be made.
At the end of the day, it is the King in his wisdom who will act on the advice or the recommendation of the Pardons Board. We have to accept whatever the outcome of the appeal for a free pardon on earth. The appeal for clemency is still available anytime; its approval lies with the Almighty.
Having said all this, I hope the Prime Minister will have the tact and the wisdom in handling the pressure from a party in a coalition government of which he is the head. If I may add: I think it is not fair to push the PM to make a stand in this manner.
If the process of getting a free pardon for a convict is allowed to be manipulated by a ruling political party, the democratic system itself will be undermined.
In a democracy, a political party is not a government as such. It may be a member of a coalition of parties claiming the right to rule over others for a while.
But the mandate given them by the voters during elections is confined to good governance, not the right to undermine, directly or indirectly, the judicial system, vital to the sustainability of all the institutions of government.
Let us all hope that the wide publicity given to the move by Umno will not adversely affect the relations between the parties forming the Unity Government.
The last thing the ordinary mortals want is another political crisis in this country.