Malaysia’s new norm for justice on high

A powerful former prime minister goes to prison for corruption, the result of public shift toward honest governance.

A person passes in front of the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 25,

This may be a record in a national surge for activism in honesty. Between 2017 and 2020, the percentage of Malaysians who told pollsters that ordinary people can make a difference against corruption rose 13 points, to 68%. The number is probably even higher now after a political earthquake hit the Southeast Asian nation this week.

On Tuesday, people in Malaysia watched in awe as the highest court sent a powerful former prime minister, Najib Razak, to prison to serve a 12-year sentence for a massive corruption scandal involving a state fund called 1MDB. The scandal is known as the world’s largest kleptocracy case, involving billions of dollars.

While much of the credit for Mr. Najib’s imprisonment went to five justices for their integrity in withstanding political pressure, many others – from whistleblowers to lawyers to members of the public – were praised.

“This proves that the people are in power,” said a prominent opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. He cited a shift in the public mood during a 2018 parliamentary election that ousted Mr. Najib and his party from power.

That election, in the predominantly Muslim country of some 33 million people, also helped elevate a powerful voice for an independent judiciary. Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat became chief justice in 2019, the first woman to hold the post. She remains outspoken about the role of the courts in treating everyone with equal justice under the law.

“It is common to hear judges being labeled as a conservative or a liberal judge. As far as I am concerned, only one label matters, namely, an impartial judge,” she said in 2021.

She also said the ability of a judge to resist corruption must be matched by a respect for core values of independence, personal integrity, propriety, equality, competence, and diligence.

Those qualities, in both Malaysia’s courts and the public at large, have now helped bring a major financial scandal to light, sending a big politician to prison. “This makes a significant change in political norms in the Southeast Asia region where leaders often enjoy unofficial ‘immunity’ from their successors,” wrote commentator James Chin in Channel News Asia.

That shift in norms began with what one civic activist called “the collective spirit of Malaysians” in understanding that ordinary people can demand honest governance.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Malaysia’s new norm for justice on high
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today