Top Malaysia cop exiting before polls 'to avoid flak'

Analysts say he would otherwise be a magnet for opposition criticism over protection rackets

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he will retire on Sept 4, as he will not be seeking an extension of service.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he will retire on Sept 4, as he will not be seeking an extension of service.

Malaysia's police chief confirmed yesterday that he will retire next month, after speculation intensified that his appointment could be extended until after a general election due to be held by next August.

"(I'm) to retire on Sept 4," Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told The Straits Times via WhatsApp message, adding that he will not be seeking an extension of service.

Tan Sri Khalid is seen as a stable and constant ally of the ruling coalition, but observers say controversy about his alleged links to a crime ring leader could have led to his decision to exit on his 60th birthday.

"With election coming, it's better if Khalid is not in the picture," said Professor James Chin, director of Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. "They would need someone who is not a magnet for controversy."

A recent crackdown by Malaysia's anti-graft agency on corruption within the police force has linked Mr Khalid to a vice ring leader in Melaka called Gopinathan Krishnan, also known as Gopi. Mr Khalid has admitted that he and his family knew Gopi personally but that he was unaware of the latter's alleged illegal activities. Mr Khalid has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

The police chief is also known for his brash statements in public and has used social media to issue warnings to Malaysians, a move that has drawn flak from activists who say it curbs free speech.

Entering the force at age 19 via the police training centre, Mr Khalid later received a law degree from the International Islamic University of Malaysia. His ascension within the force was gradual, and he has been seen by the public as being closely allied to the ruling Barisan Nasional government.

"Khalid is perceived to be helpful to the ruling coalition," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, visiting senior fellow at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute. He added: "But if his contract was extended it would raise a lot of criticisms against the government."

Analysts said that Mr Khalid's brash nature, coupled with the anti-graft agency's discovery of police protection rackets in several states, has offered the political opposition room to attack Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration.

In May, The Straits Times reported that investigators found that Gopi had sent text messages to senior Melaka policemen, instructing them to raid his rivals' prostitution and gambling dens.

In the aftermath of these cases, the police conducted a major reshuffle of its top brass across departments and nationwide.

Allowing Mr Khalid to retire and letting fresh leaders take over the police department, analysts said, staves off further criticism of the police and of the government. Letting Mr Khalid continue would not be helpful, said Mr Wan Saiful. "It does not help with Najib's credibility. It seems as if there's no one else who's qualified for the job."

Prof Chin agreed: "It's easier for the opposition to criticise the administration. Among Umno politicians, Khalid is seen as too blatant."

It is likely the current deputy inspector-general of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim will take over as police chief. But Mr Rashid is already 59, and will turn 60 next March.

Mr Khalid has hinted that Mr Rashid could serve as acting police chief. "For the time being, Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Rashid) would be taking over," he told the New Straits Times.

Analysts added that it is unlikely Mr Khalid's departure from the force would change the dynamics within the police force and its working relationship with the ruling coalition. "There is no bearing whatsoever on the election. Whoever comes after him will continue to carry out his duties in the same manner," said Mr Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent pollster Merdeka Centre.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2017, with the headline Top Malaysia cop exiting before polls 'to avoid flak'. Subscribe