SHAH ALAM: Since he has not been convicted yet, Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will be able to contest in the 15th General Election (GE15), legal experts have confirmed.
This also goes for his Umno colleagues Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin.
Senior criminal lawyer Datuk Dr Baljit Singh Sidhu said until a conviction takes place, one can still stand for elections, adding that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s case was clear-cut as he had been convicted and exhausted the appeals process.
Ahmad Zahid was freed of all 40 graft charges in the Foreign Visa System (VLN) case yesterday by the High Court although he is still facing 47 other charges in the Yayasan Akalbudi case.
Meanwhile, Baling MP Abdul Azeez was handed a discharge not amounting to an acquittal over nine corruption and money laundering charges; and Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar has been given a stay in his trial involving unit trust investments.
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Baljit cited Article 48 of the Federal Constitution which states that a person can be disqualified as an MP if they are convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than one year in jail and fined more than RM2,000.
Criminal lawyer Fahmi Abd Moin echoed his views, saying that the three Umno bigwigs would be able to stand in GE15.
“Even if there is an appeal by the prosecution against the decision of the High Court today (yesterday), Ahmad Zahid still can be nominated as a candidate, and the same goes for Abdul Azeez and Bung Moktar even though their criminal hearing is ongoing,” he said.
However, it will be up to the Umno supreme council to take the risk of nominating them since they are facing criminal trials in which they could be found guilty, said Fahmi.
Meanwhile, political analysts said Ahmad Zahid’s acquittal will serve as a morale booster for his party going into GE15.
Umno supporters will use the trial outcome to show that the party president was a victim of selective prosecution.
“All this while, Ahmad Zahid and Umno had the burden of the court charges over their head, so with this case cleared, they will feel relieved and propelled.
ALSO READ: Abdul Azeez freed of graft charges
“Now they can go into the election feeling strengthened. It will be interesting to see if the party will go all out and use Ahmad Zahid as a poster boy or a prime minister candidate,” said National Council of Professors senior fellow Dr Jeniri Amir.
Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Dr Azmi Hassan said the acquittal means Ahmad Zahid will now have the clout to call the shots in Umno.
The Opposition will need to move away from its current strategy of attacking Umno leaders with ongoing court cases, he added.
“I think Ahmad Zahid’s stature in Umno is going to increase,” said Azmi.
Universiti Sains Malaysia political analyst Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian agreed that the acquittal should strengthen his position as Umno president, “unless, there is continuous character assassination against him from within or outside the party”.
BowerGroupAsia director Adib Zalkapli regarded the acquittal as a small win since Ahmad Zahid has other pending cases.
“But politically, it’s one less problem for him. He needs as many small wins as possible to maintain his legitimacy as party president,” he said.
Universiti Malaya’s Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Ahmad Zahid had faced the brunt of the court of public opinion as his political enemies were using it to weaken his image.“This will improve his political image as Umno president,” he said, adding that the acquittal would also strengthen the party’s position.
“Umno members and fence-sitters may begin to think of Ahmad Zahid as the Umno leader who dared to face the courts and prove that he is innocent,” he said.