Malaysian PM puts party on war foot­ing be­fore polls

The Jakarta Post - - FRONT PAGE - M Je­gath­e­san

Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak put his party on a war foot­ing Thurs­day as polls loom, vow­ing to “fight till the end” de­spite a mas­sive fi­nan­cial scan­dal that has rocked his gov­ern­ment.

The leader told the an­nual assem­bly of his United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO) — which has ruled Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Malaysia for six decades at the head of a coali­tion — that the coun­try was fac­ing a “cru­cial elec­tion.”

“In this bat­tle we fight till the end, in this elec­tion we will emerge vic­to­ri­ous,” he told thou­sands of cheer­ing del­e­gates wear­ing the red col­ors of his party in Kuala Lumpur.

Elec­tions must be called by Au­gust at the lat­est. Na­jib did not hint at a date in his speech but spec­u­la­tion is swirling that they will be take place early next year.

Na­jib’s chances of win­ning a third term have been dented by ex­plo­sive graft al­le­ga­tions. Bil­lions were looted from the 1MDB sov­er­eign wealth fund that he founded in com­plex over­seas deals which are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated in sev­eral coun­tries.

Both Na­jib, who made no men­tion of the scan­dal dur­ing Thurs­day’s speech, and the fund deny any wrong­do­ing.

The United States Jus­tice De­part­ment has led the charge in tack­ling the al­leged pil­lag­ing, launch­ing law­suits through which it is seek­ing to re­cover US$1.7 bil­lion in as­sets thought to have been pur­chased with looted money, from art­work to high-end real es­tate.

This week US At­tor­ney General Jeff Ses­sions told a con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton that the 1MDB scan­dal was “klep­toc­racy at its worst.”

The elec­tion race has also been up­ended by the emer­gence of el­derly for­mer prime min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, who led Malaysia for 22 years, as a key fig­ure in the main op­po­si­tion al­liance.

Ma­hathir, 92, has come out of re­tire­ment to try to oust the gov­ern­ment over the 1MDB scan­dal, team­ing up with his for­mer neme­sis, jailed op­po­si­tion leader An­war Ibrahim.

In his speech at the UMNO gath­er­ing, the most closely watched event in Malaysia’s po­lit­i­cal cal­en­dar, Na­jib, 64, ac­cused Ma­hathir of hav­ing “crossed the line.” “He has the au­dac­ity to unite with his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies,” he said.

He also warned that if the op­po­si­tion won the elec­tion then Mus­lim Malays, about 60 per­cent of the coun­try’s 32 mil­lion peo­ple, “will be­come home­less and de­spised in their own coun­try.”

He sought to rally Mus­lims over US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Israel’s cap­i­tal, say­ing that “the voice of Mus­lims in Malaysia will re­ver­ber­ate across the world” in op­po­si­tion to the move.

UMNO has long cham­pi­oned the Malay cause in a coun­try that is home to sub­stan­tial eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, and has en­shrined poli­cies that fa­vor them.

Most ob­servers be­lieve that Na­jib and the rul­ing Barisan Na­sional (BN) coali­tion will edge an­other vic­tory in the elec­tions, as the op­po­si­tion re­mains weak with lead­ing light An­war still in jail fol­low­ing a 2015 sodomy con­vic­tion his sup­port­ers say was po­lit­i­cal­ly­mo­ti­vated.

Na­jib has over­come the worst of the 1MDB crisis, which peaked in 2015, purg­ing crit­ics from gov­ern­ment and crack­ing down on dis­sent.

“BN, and es­pe­cially UMNO, is set to win big,” said Oh Ei Sun, from Malaysian think-tank the Pa­cific Re­search Cen­ter.

“The op­po­si­tion is def­i­nitely not shap­ing up for a real fight.”

Na­jib Razak pre­pares his party UMNO for a “cru­cial elec­tion” de­spite a fi­nan­cial scan­dal Elec­tions is due in Au­gust at the lat­est but it is spec­u­lated to take place in early 2018

Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

Get­ting ready: Mem­bers of the United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO) lis­ten to a speech by Malaysia’s Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak dur­ing the party’s general assem­bly in Kuala Lumpur on Thurs­day.

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