By Aliran

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Today’s verdict in the SRC International trial finding Najib Razak guilty of all seven charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering is an important decision with far-reaching political implications.

The appeals court judges have upheld the exhaustive judgement of the High Court judge as well as the RM210m fine and 12-year jail term imposed on Najib.

Najib’s appeal to the Federal Court will probably take place next year. Meanwhile, he remains an MP but will not be able to contest in the general election.

The verdict sends a powerful message to the corrupt: no one is above the law and crime does not pay. The guilty verdict on a former prime minister shows no one is untouchable and no one can escape scot-free. It is a timely message given the state of corruption in the country, where many appear to be living beyond their means.

The verdict goes some way in restoring trust in the courts that justice will prevail. But one swallow does not make summer. It has been a long, hard journey to wipe out corruption, and many have already escaped.

Still, it is encouraging to see the judiciary making independent decisions. One heartening aspect of this trial was the meticulous judgement by the capable High Court judge that the Court of Appeal resoundingly affirmed.

Today’s verdict was widely followed, and the repercussions go well beyond the walls of the courtroom. Ordinary people, civil society, the business community and analysts alike were all following the outcome to see signs of hope in Malaysia.

Hopefully, the judiciary will begin a process of restoration. The courts must remain strong and independent to withstand any pressure from vested interests.

Ordinary people should play a role in this process of restoration. There is much to build on. The public should be exceptionally vigilant against any outside interference in the courts by those with vested interests. 
One way to do this would be for ordinary people to vote for candidates and parties that pledge to implement judicial reforms in the coming general election.

Indeed, today’s events give us some hope that we can continue along a path that upholds the rule of law. No one should be above the rule of law, which must apply to all, without double standards.

Ultimately, we need three strong branches of government at the apex to provide checks and balances:

a) An Executive that is competent, accountable and transparent (what the Umno-Barisan Nasional government under Najib Razak was not).

b) A vibrant Parliament elected through free, fair and bersih (clean) elections, along with parliamentarians who scrutinise proposed bills meticulously and who are ever vigilant in monitoring the attempted shenanigans of the Executive.
c) An independent Judiciary well versed in the application and interpretation of the laws.

We might have neglected the critical role of the judicial branch in the past. Now is the time to re-emphasise the importance of an independent judiciary and its consolidation.