Malaysia PM slammed after he fails to face critics on scandal
Malaysia’s embattled prime minister provoked fierce criticism Friday by not attending an event at which he was to defend himself over an escalating scandal threatening to engulf his administration.
Prime Minister Najib Razak had been expected to use the public forum to hit back at critics of a state-owned development company he launched that is reeling under billions of dollars of debt and accusations of fraud.
But after 89-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — the chief voice pushing for Najib’s ouster over the affair — showed up to speak at the event, police ordered it shut down, citing unspecified “public order and national harmony” concerns.
Political opponents and Malaysia’s active social-media scene accused Najib of engineering the cancellation to avoid facing his main accuser in public.
“He lost an opportunity to win over support for himself, to explain everything ... that no money is missing,” Mahathir was quoted saying by The Malaysian Insider news portal.
Najib launched the company, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), in 2009 and, as concurrent finance minister, is responsible for its operations.
But it is reeling under an estimated US$11 billion debt, which has weighed on the ringgit currency and sparked fears for the country’s sovereign credit rating.
Reports this year also have alleged that possibly billions of U.S. dollars have gone missing through mismanagement and murky overseas transactions.
Najib and 1MDB have denied wrongdoing, saying the company is on solid footing.
But both opposition and ruling party critics have accused 1MDB of providing incomplete and shifting explanations.
Najib’s office blamed his noshow on the security warning from his national police chief.
But critics mocked that, noting that the event was held at Najib’s own ruling-party headquarters.