KUALA LUMPUR - Special Branch chief Abdul Hamid Bador looks set to be Malaysia's next police chief after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday (May 1) that he "thinks" that this would be the case.
"Yes, I think he is the next IGP. I think the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong has signed his appointment letter," he told reporters, referring to the royal assent needed to appoint an Inspector-General of Police.
His answer, which fell short of a confirmation, comes just days before IGP Mohamad Fuzi Harun retires on Saturday (May 4) and reflects unhappiness from other quarters over Dr Mahathir's pick for national police chief.
The choice of the no-nonsense Datuk Abdul Hamid would underline the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government's commitment to reform the scandalised police force.
However, sources told The Straits Times that there has been a months-long wrangling over the next IGP as both the Home Ministry and Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) have their own candidate in mind.
According to the sources, the ministry's pick is National Anti-Drugs Agency (AADK) director-general Zulkifli Abdullah while the police force wants Internal Security and Public Order Department director Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani for the top job.
"RMP and AADK are under the purview of the Home Ministry. Putting aside that it (IGP) is a political post, the ministry prefers to have someone who is easy to 'control'... sort of a 'yes man'. It'll make working together in the long run easy for both sides (RMP and Home Ministry)," said an official source.
"In this case, Zulkifli fits the bill. He's also one of the most senior policemen in the force."
Prior to joining AADK, Datuk Seri Zulkifli was RMP's Internal Security and Public Order Department director.
In August last year, he was transferred to the anti-drugs agency with immediate effect following a directive from Dr Mahathir.
This also came two months after The Straits Times reported that there would be a massive shake-up in the RMP.
Said the source: "Hamid, on the other hand, is different. He's dedicated, but not the type to kowtow, close one eye or blindly agree when he needs to for work. If things do not sit well with him, he will voice it out and fight for what he believes in. That's the quality that Mahathir wants in a leader."
However, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is said to prefer someone whom he and his ministry can get along and work well with, the source added.
As for Datuk Seri Acryl, the source noted that he is known among the men in blue for his strong work ethic and good character.
In July 2015, Mr Abdul Hamid, Special Branch deputy chief at the time, was among several top officers, including then Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, who were removed from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case as the scandal implicating then Prime Minister Najib Razak was unravelling.
He was transferred out of the Special Branch to the Prime Minister's Department and later alleged a cover-up in the 1MDB investigations.
Following PH's election victory in May last year, Mr Abdul Hamid returned to head the Special Branch. He was put in charge of recovering the superyacht Equanimity, once owned by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, and did so within three months.
Who eventually becomes IGP will have a major bearing on one of the key reforms that the PH coalition promised in its election manifesto.
The police force has long been perceived as corruption-ridden and a political tool, and accused of human rights abuses.
Its image took a further beating following the mysterious disappearances of Perlis-based activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The pastor had been seen being taken away by several men in broad daylight.
After a public inquiry that lasted more than a year, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia concluded that both men were victims of enforced disappearance carried out by the Special Branch, the police's intelligence unit, then under the leadership of Mr Fuzi.
After the commission's findings were released last month, Dr Mahathir said Mr Fuzi would be allowed to retire first before his successor is appointed to look into the allegations.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) currently looking into the shocking discovery in 2015 of mass graves and human trafficking activities at the Perlis border town of Wang Kelian has also shone a bad light on the Malaysian police.
Just last week, a police inspector admitted at the RCI hearing that he had lodged a false report four years ago that he arrested five illegal immigrants when in fact the group was handed over to him by the Special Branch.
Revelations from the hearing have renewed calls for the government to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
The IPCMC, first mooted 13 years ago, was shelved following opposition from the police and other parties.
It was also one of PH's election promises to set up the IPCMC, which will replace the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission.