Whatever the various causes for the UMNO defeat and PAS victory in the Pulai Chondong by-election in Kelantan yesterday, one thing is clear: the by-election result shows that the voters were not unaffected by the case of Tan Sri Muhammad Taib’s arrest in Brisbane over RM2.4 million cash.
The by-election has proven wrong those UMNO leaders who had publicly claimed that Muhammad Taib’s case would not affect the outcome of the voting in Pulai Chondong yesterday, which was really an insult to the intelligence of the voters.
I have no doubt that the voters of Pulai Chondong, like Malaysians all over the country, were very concerned about Muhammad’s RM2.4 million cash case in Brisbane, and that it was one of factors leading to the UMNO defeat in the by-election. Like all other Malaysians, the concern of Pulai Chondong voters would not be so much about whether Muhammad had committed an offence against Australian law in not declaring the RM2.4 million cash in various currencies at the Brisbane airport before leaving for New Zealand on December 22, as by his failure to give satisfactory or acceptable explanations as to the origin, source and purpose of the RM2.4 million cash found on his person by Australian customs!
The Pulai Chondong by-election result must be seen as a demand by the people for better accountability by Muhammad as to how and why he had RM2.4 million cash in Brisbane.
The claims by Muhammad and other UMNO leaders that the public should not “prejudge” him and that he should be given a chance to defend himself in the Brisbane magistrate’s court on March 21 do not hold water but are just mere delaying tactics to avoid proper, acceptable and satisfactory accountability to the Malaysian public over the origin, source and purpose of the RM2.4 million cash.
This is because there is nothing for the public to “pre-judge” Muhammed over the Australian charge - as Muhammed had already publicly admitted that he had the money and had committed the offence, although he had not made any plea when the charge was read out to him in the Brisbane’s magistrate’s court on December 23.
The RM2.4 million cash is in fact now in the custody of the Australian Federal Police and going by past cases of this nature, is likely to be forfeited by the Brisbane magistrate’s court. Muhamad had of course said that this was a “technical offence” as he did not know he had to make such a declaration under Australian law.
What the Malaysian public wants to know is very different from the charge before the Brisbane magistrate’s court - not whether he had committed an offence for not declaring RM2.4 million cash before leaving the country, but how and why he had so much money!
The question of Malaysians “prejudging” Muhammad does not arise at all. After the Pulai Chondong by-election result, Muhammed should be under greater pressure to account to the bar of Malaysian public opinion the origin, source and purpose of the RM2.4 million cash - and until Muhammed could satisfactorily discharge this burden of accountability to the Malaysian public, he should step down as Selangor Mentri Besar.