Selangor ruler backs king: ‘Royal pardon cannot be granted arbitrarily’

Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah and Noah Lee
2022.09.12
Kuala Lumpur
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Selangor ruler backs king: ‘Royal pardon cannot be granted arbitrarily’ Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to journalists outside the Federal Court during a court break, in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Aug. 23, 2022.
[Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]

In a rare move, one of Malaysia’s sultans on Monday backed the king in saying that royal pardons cannot be granted arbitrarily or through any special treatment, as the ruling party leans on the palace to give one to imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Neither Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Alhaj nor King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah mentioned Najib or anyone else by name in their respective statements. The former PM applied for a royal pardon days after he lost his final appeal for the nation’s highest court to overturn his conviction for corruption and was sent to prison.

Sharafuddin said he was paying close attention to recent “developments” in the justice system and agreed with the king’s comments from last week indicating that a royal pardon could not be used “for the benefit of certain parties.”

“The Federal Constitution has placed the dignity of the judicial institution at a high level as an independent and authoritative judicial body. The judiciary is the last bastion that needs to be defended to ensure that the administration of justice can be carried out in the best possible way,” Sharafuddin said on Monday.

“I am happy to express my strong support for the [King’s] speech on Sept. 5 relating to the prerogative power of pardon which cannot be arbitrarily exercised for the benefit of certain parties.”

People need to understand that the pardoning process must be carried out in accordance with the laws and procedures framed under the constitution, he added.

The throne is occupied on a rotating basis among Malaysia’s nine sultans, or royal rulers.

The sultan of Selangor also announced that he had revoked the titles conferred on Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, effective Monday, following their convictions. On Sept. 1, Rosmah was sentenced to 10 years in prison for soliciting and taking bribes. 

That same day, Najib, who is now serving a 12-year sentence linked to his role in the 1MDB financial scandal, petitioned the king for a pardon. The parliamentary speaker revealed the news about Najib’s pardon application a few days later.

Although Najib retains his parliamentary seat pending the outcome of his petition, he can only contest the next general election if the king pardons him.

While inaugurating a new sharia court complex in Kuantan in Pahang state on Sept. 5, the king quoted a passage from the Koran that encapsulates Islam’s concept of justice.

The verse states that “Islamic justice does not give any exception or special treatment to anyone who commits an offence, be it ourselves, our close friends, family members, nor our parents,” said the monarch of Muslim-majority Malaysia.

“Thus, the power to mete out punishment and power to give pardon should not be used without proper consideration because we will have to answer to god in the hereafter,” he said.

The king made the remarks during a speech in Najib’s home state. The king is also from Pahang.

“If the law is not carried out consistently and in a fair manner, then justice will not prevail. Because the spirit behind the enactment of a law has been violated. When this happens, then the weak will become victim of those with power,” he added.

MY-inside-pic.JPG
Supporters of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak gather outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur to hand over a petition against his imprisonment, Aug. 24, 2022. [Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

Only a day after Najib began serving his sentence on Aug. 23, his supporters gathered outside the national palace to petition the king to grant the former premier a royal pardon.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the president of Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), called a special meeting four days later, and said the organization would be campaigning for a royal pardon for Najib. Zahid himself is facing charges of corruption.

On Aug. 23, the Federal Court upheld Najib’s 2020 conviction in a case related to the theft of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund, and sent him to prison for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.

Meanwhile on Monday, the 69-year-old Najib was in court for an ongoing trial in another case, in which he faces 25 charges of abuse of power and money laundering connected with 2.3 billion ringgit ($551 million) that went missing from 1MDB.

The prosecution said Najib was scheduled be taken to see a doctor later in the day as his “medication for blood pressure has been changed and it has [had] adverse effects.”

Najib’s daughter, Nooryana Najwa, said on social media that a test on Monday morning showed her father’s blood pressure to be “dangerously high.”

“On humanitarian grounds, our family pleads with the prison authority, the hospital and [PM] Ismail Sabri [Yaakob’s] government to do the right thing and allow for dad to receive proper medical care and observation,” she said.

Royalty’s ‘activist posture’

According to an analyst, the king and the sultan of Selangor made their comments in different contexts.

“The Agong [king spoke] when officiating a syariah [sharia] court complex, while the sultan [spoke] in relation to the palace’s announcement to strip Najib and Rosmah of honorary titles. In any event, both are saying that the principles of justice have to be upheld, and there is an institutionalized process for royal pardon,” Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, of the International Islamic University Malaysia, told BenarNews.

“This is in the wake of calls from UMNO to petition the monarchy to pardon Najib. The monarchy is assuring the public that it is above politics. It also urges the people to respect the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

The sultan of Perak also recently spoke in support of the independence of the judiciary, Tunku Mohar noted.

“It is not common for royalty to comment on royal pardons, but in doing so, it is taking an activist posture to position itself above the current polemics. It also projects itself as an impartial institution,” he said.

The king’s comments could be interpreted in two ways, another analyst said.

 “It could be inferred that the king may not be too keen to pardon those who were definitively adjudged and punished by the judicial system. But it could also be interpreted to mean that, if indeed pardon was to be granted, it would be to those truly deserving it,” Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews.

“And Najib’s supporters have been clamoring for his pardon which they feel he unreservedly deserves.”

Nik Shukry Ramli and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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