The convict candidate: Can former Prime Minister Najib Razak become a surprise #GE15 candidate from behind bars?

Following months of uncertainties, Malaysians finally got confirmation that the 15th General Election (GE15) will be held soon, specifically on 19 November 2022. This is brought about by the dissolution of Parliament by now-caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

While our last article elaborated on whether the dissolution itself was legitimate, this time around, we are here to focus on one of Ismail Sabri’s predecessors, former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and whether he can still contest in GE15 despite currently being behind bars. Of course, UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) have recently announced their list of candidates and the incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) for Pekan’s name was noticeably missing, stranger things have happened in the past.

Indeed, while incumbent Peramu Jaya Assemblyman Datuk Seri Sheikh Mohamad Puzi Ali was named by BN as its Parliamentary candidate for Pekan, nothing is for certain until nomination day this 5 November. Besides, who’s to say Najib won’t contest under a different flag? But the question remains, can he still run in GE15 though?

The convict candidate?

While the answer seems obvious, it’s not as straightforward as one thinks as the details can get rather complicated, especially for a layman. It can get confusing too, more so if you take into account how Najib was still the legitimate Pekan MP while serving his sentence in jail, up until Parliament’s dissolution on 10 October 2022.

As reported by Malay Mail, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Harun confirmed that Najib’s status as Pekan MP remained unchanged until his formal pardon petition for his SRC International case conviction is settled or as how things turned out, until Parliament is dissolved. Moreover, the Speaker also clarified that the former Prime Minister can even attend Dewan Rakyat sittings despite his imprisonment, though as such is up to the Prisons Department’s permission, which denied such a request.

While Najib challenged the decision in court, it was ultimately dismissed because Parliament’s dissolution had made the whole matter academic. However, given how Najib was still the legitimate Pekan MP and that the Speaker confirmed that he can still attend Parliament as a convict, it’s a fair assumption to make that he can also still run as a candidate in GE15.

In fact, as reported by FMT, the Pekan UMNO division even previously had Najib as one of the party’s candidates in the constituency. So, can the jailed former Prime Minister run in GE15? Well, let’s examine the relevant laws, including the highest law of the land, the Federal Constitution to find out

Disqualification from contesting in Malaysian elections

The most relevant law regarding Najib’s situation is Article 48 of the Constitution which prescribes the disqualification for membership of Parliament. Essentially, Article 48 (1) (e) and 48 (4) of the Constitution were what allowed Najib to still be the legitimate Pekan MP pending his formal pardon application being heard.

However, in regards to Najib running for an election after conviction, the most relevant provision is Article 48 (5) below:

According to the provision, upon his conviction in the SRC International case, Najib had been “immediately” disqualified from being nominated, or contesting in elections or being appointed to either the Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara. This is because his punishment for the infamous case exceeded the threshold prescribed by Article 48 (e) for the disqualification of an MP.

Besides that, another relevant law on the matter is Regulation 7 (d) of the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981. Through this provision, Najib is barred from contesting in GE15 or any other elections in Malaysia until his disqualification as per the Federal Constitution has been lifted.

Hence, as per the relevant laws mentioned above, the former Prime Minister has been disqualified from running in GE15.

When can Najib run for elections in Malaysia again?

Najib may no longer contest in a Malaysian election up until 5 years after he has served his sentence or received a royal pardon from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. This 5-year ban is prescribed by Article 48 (3) of the Constitution below:

Hence, unless the former Prime Minister somehow managed to receive a royal pardon before GE15 nomination day on 5 November 2022, this GE will also be the first GE without the direct involvement of Najib Razak since 1976. Furthermore, with the addition of the 5-year ban, the earliest GE that the incumbent Pekan MP could possibly contest in is GE18, though this doesn’t take into account his other pending cases which may potentially add up his time in prison should he be found guilty.

Moving forward, all eyes would be on GE15 as it may well turn out to be one of the most important GEs in our nation’s history. For more insights into the Malaysian legal system such as this, do make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram or visit our official website. You can also read our articles on the popular Malaysian news aggregator app Newswav here.