Kuala Lumpur—In an interview over the weekend, former Prime Minister and grand old man of Malaysian politics Dr Tun Mahathir Mohammed pointed to Najib Razak as the instigator behind the country’s current problems.
Speaking to South China Morning Post’s This Week in Asia, Dr Mahathir debunked the popular notion that his beef is against Malaysia’s current leader Muhyiddin Yassin. For him, what truly troubles the nation is the political comeback of Mr Najib, whom Dr Mahathir had unseated in the May 2018 elections.
As for Mr Muhyiddin, he is but a follower of Mr Najib, who stands accused of multiple counts of money laundering and corruption over the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.
And while much of 2019 pitted Dr Mahathir against his longtime political foe, Anwar Ibrahim, the nonagenarian told This Week in Asia that they need to stand united.
He said, “Without being together, we will not have the kind of clout we need to unseat the government, and the government has a frail majority.”
The two leaders are gunning for support from the majority of Malaysia’s Members of Parliament in a counter-bid to regain power, which has been an arduous task, as would-be allies have chosen to be on the administration’s side after being given high-paying positions.
Dr Mahathir said in his interview that Mr Najib had worked behind the scenes against the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in order to avoid serving a long jail sentence as his trials approach a verdict.
He said, “One thing is certain. Najib is not going to work hard to make Muhyiddin the prime minister if he is going to jail. He is not going to leave this man [to become] prime minister, and he goes to jail. He doesn’t want to go to jail. If he has a docile prime minister that he can influence, he may escape from going to jail.”
Dr Mahathir also discussed the possibility that Mr Najib would gun for the premiership once again.
Citing the recent discharges given by prosecutors to two figures linked to Mr Najib, former ally Musa Aman and his stepson, the film producer Riza Aziz, he added that more people “who committed crimes during the time of Najib” could be “set free”.
“They will come up with all kinds of reasons … In the case of Najib, [they will say] he was a victim of a scam [by] Jho Low. It’s Jho Low, not Najib, so we can find him not guilty. Once he is not guilty he will then be eligible to contest, and even become prime minister. At that stage, I think he is not going to support Muhyiddin as prime minister.”
The former Prime Minister said that Mr Najib’s faction had succeeded in causing Malaysians to believe that the PH alliance was “dominated by the Chinese” or “dominated by the DAP.”
“He made use of this issue that Pakatan Harapan is not Malay, it is entirely controlled by DAP, but the Malays accepted that.
People after some time [forgot] about his crimes and all that, even about his trial, because they feel that this man is championing Malay Muslims so the Malays must support him.
He has reached the point where he can say, ‘yes, I stole money but I am your boss, so it’s all right’ … because he is a Malay Muslim prime minister although he has stolen money.”
And while an election could suddenly be called, this would be extremely difficult due to the pandemic. At this point, gaining support in parliament is essential.
“There is a possibility that some people think that we will have an election to settle everything. Unfortunately because of the pandemic an election is going to be difficult and very, very costly. So it’s not a good answer. The better way of course is to find out who gets the support of parliament. The person with the majority support then becomes prime minister,” This Week in Asia quotes Dr Mahathir as saying. —/TISG