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As the 1MDB noose tightens around former UMNO president Najib Tun Razak and more and more details emerge of the extent of the corruption, deception and duplicity involved, UMNO leaders appear to be getting jittery and nervous. They have concluded, somewhat belatedly, that Najib is a liability and must be ditched if the party is to survive him. A strategy to insulate and isolate the party from Najib’s toxic legacy is now in the works.

Utusan Malaysia, the party’s mouthpiece, recently issued a rare rebuke of Najib, accusing him of repeatedly lying about the source of the millions of ringgits he received in his account and demanding that he apologise to all UMNO members for the damage he has done to the party.

UMNO deputy president Mohamad Hasan, for his part, is pushing the line that it is “unfair, inappropriate and illogical to blame and punish UMNO over the 1MDB scandal… because UMNO was not involved in the operation and transactions involving the wealth fund.”

A laughable defence

Most Malaysians will find UMNO’s protestations of innocence laughable, if not annoying. If that is the best survival strategy they can come up with, they really are beyond rescue.

It is asinine, at best, for the party to feign ignorance about the 1MDB scandal. After all, the whole world knew that something had gone terribly wrong with the management of the wealth fund. The DOJ investigations, reports of dubious transactions, and stories about pink diamonds and wild parties should have been enough to at least cast some doubts on the official version of events.

And yet, UMNO leaders and members, for the most part, did nothing. Worse still, up till the very end, they cheered Najib on, encouraged him and praised him for his leadership, dismissing all criticism against him as fake news.

For so long as the gravy kept flowing, UMNO members were happy to keep singing his praises and defending his actions. After all, one man couldn’t have pulled off the heist of the century all by himself; it took a whole party of gutless, unethical and corrupt members to provide him the cover, the support and the endorsement that was necessary to perpetrate fraud on such a massive scale.

And even now, despite the charges against Najib and the arrest of some of the co-conspirators, sympathy for Najib remains strong in the party. They even gave him a standing ovation at one recent party event as if 1MDB is nothing more than a minor misunderstanding. Clearly, UMNO has lost its moral compass, if ever it had one.

Corrupt to the core

Utusan got it wrong when it demanded that Najib apologize to UMNO members; both Najib and every last UMNO official and elected representative need to apologize to the nation for their collective failure to defend the national interests, for being party (whether by omission or commission) to the world’s greatest act of kleptocracy, an act so dastardly that it almost brought our nation to the brink of ruin.

Even if they were not directly involved in the 1MDB scandal, they need to apologize for their own spineless, immoral and dishonourable conduct in the face of all the malfeasance that went on around them. And that’s just the beginning of a litany of wrongs that they need to take responsibility for.

And they shouldn’t think that being “too scared” to speak out is defence enough. If they, as elected representatives and senior officials, didn’t have the courage to speak out against wrongdoing, they don’t deserve to remain as MPs. Their moral cowardice stands in stark contrast to the thousands of ordinary Malaysians who bravely defied arrest, tear gas and razor wire to protest and take a stand against an abusive government.

Whitewashed tombs

Whatever it is, no doubt the campaign to whitewash and sanitize UMNO members will serve them well when they eventually abandon UMNO for greener pastures. Next thing we’ll be hearing is that all those 40 UMNO MPs who are rumoured to be joining Bersatu are all good and honest men who were simply deceived by Najib, guilty of nothing more than naivety.

It would be a travesty of justice, certainly a rank betrayal of the electorate, if the very people who colluded with Najib, who cheered him on at every turn, and who were an intrinsic part of a corrupt and abusive government are now allowed to recast themselves as patriots. If they want redemption, let them first confess their sins, admit their mistakes, apologize, make restitution where appropriate, and then let’s see whether they deserve a second chance.

Until then, the party’s plea for “room to continue [their] contribution to race, religion and country” is likely to generate as much empathy as a pile of horse manure.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 7th November 2018]