Pres­sure rises on Malaysian PM as ex-leader backs protests

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY M JE­GATH­E­SAN

Pres­sure mounted Sun­day on Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak as in­flu­en­tial for­mer leader Ma­hathir Mo­hamad threw his weight be­hind mass protests de­mand­ing the premier’s oust­ing over a fi­nan­cial scan­dal.

Tens of thou­sands of Malaysians clad in the yel­low of the prore­form move­ment have turned out for two days of week­end demon­stra­tions to de­mand Na­jib’s re­moval, shut­ting down the city cen­tre in a car­ni­val at­mos­phere of speeches, sing- a- longs and prayer.

But the 90-year-old Ma­hathir stole the show on Sun­day, ar­riv­ing to a rock-star re­cep­tion from protesters.

In a hastily ar­ranged news con­fer­ence, Ma­hathir apol­o­gized for his role in aid­ing Na­jib’s rise to power, and ac­cused him of abus­ing his power to stay in of­fice and avoid charges.

“He knows when he has no power he may be made to face the court. The court may find him guilty and he may have to go to jail,” Ma­hathir told re­porters.

Na­jib has been un­der fierce pres­sure since the Wall Street Jour­nal last month pub­lished Malaysian doc­u­ments show­ing nearly US$700 mil­lion had been de­posited into his per­sonal bank ac­counts be­gin­ning in 2013.

Na­jib ini­tially called the re­ports false and “ma­li­cious.” But his cab­i­net min­is­ters have since ad­mit­ted the trans­fers, dis­miss­ing them as “po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions” from uniden- ti­fied Mid­dle Eastern sources.

The ac­counts have been closed and the fate of the money re­mains un­known.

De­mands for Trans­parency

“I am here to de­mand trans­parency,” said demon­stra­tor Mustapha Ab­dul Jalil, 40, a busi­ness­man.

“This coun­try is head­ing for bank­ruptcy and we must stop Na­jib and top­ple the cor­rupt regime.”

Na­jib had al­ready faced months of al­le­ga­tions that huge sums of state money dis­ap­peared from deals in­volv­ing a gov­ern­men­towned in­vest­ment com­pany he launched in 2009.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions into the var­i­ous al­le­ga­tions ap­pear stalled, how­ever, af­ter Na­jib in late July sacked or re­as­signed of­fi­cials and par­lia­ment mem­bers who had launched probes.

Na­jib de­nies wrong­do­ing and says he is the tar­get of a “po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy.”

Ma­hathir has been a fierce critic of Na­jib for more than a year, ac­cus­ing him of cor­rup­tion, abuse of power and eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment.

Ma­hathir still casts a long shadow af­ter helm­ing the rul­ing Barisan Na­sional (Na­tional Front) coali­tion from 1981-2003.

His ten­ure saw rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment but — ac­cord­ing to his many crit­ics — crony cap­i­tal­ism be­came en­trenched and the in­de­pen­dence of key in­sti­tu­tions like the ju­di­ciary was sub­verted.

Ma­hathir’s at­ten­dance at the demon­stra­tion will likely raise the pres­sure on Na­jib, who came to power in 2009 only af­ter Ma­hathir en­gi­neered the oust­ing of his own cho­sen suc­ces­sor Ab­dul­lah Ah­mad Badawi.

Most po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, how­ever, do not be­lieve Ma­hathir still has the clout to bring about Na­jib’s down­fall.

Na­jib re­cently purged crit­ics in his cab­i­net and is widely con­sid­ered to have firm con­trol of the pow­er­ful rul­ing party, the United Malays Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UMNO).

‘Black coal on Malaysia’s face’

“Those who wear this yel­low at­tire, who are they? They want to dis­credit our good name (and) scrib­ble black coal on Malaysia’s face to the out­side world,” of­fi­cial media quoted Na­jib as say­ing Satur­day in de­nounc­ing the demon­stra­tions.

Mean­while, the re­form move­ment be­hind the protests lacks much trac­tion in ru­ral ar­eas where Na­jib’s gov­ern­ment com­mands solid sup­port, and the op­po­si­tion is cur­rently frac­tured.

The demon­stra­tions that be­gan Satur­day in the cap­i­tal, and smaller gath­er­ings in other cities, have been mostly in­ci­dent-free de­spite po­lice brand­ing them illegal and ban­ning the move­ment’s yel­low T-shirts.

But Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Zahid Hamidi, who is also home min­is­ter in charge of do­mes­tic se­cu­rity, warned rally or­ga­niz­ers may face charges un­der assem­bly, sedi­tion and other laws.

The or­ga­niz­ers — elec­toral­re­form ac­tivist group BER­SIH (the Malay word for “clean”) — said 200,000 turned out in Kuala Lumpur at the peak on Satur­day, while po­lice put the num­ber at 29,000.

De­mon­stra­tors also de­nounced Na­jib for al­leged eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment in­clud­ing an un­pop­u­lar new con­sump­tion tax, and de­manded re­form of an elec­toral sys­tem said to fa­vor the UM­NOled rul­ing coali­tion.

It has con­trolled mul­tira­cial Malaysia since in­de­pen­dence in 1957.

But it has rapidly lost vot­ers in re­cent years, par­tic­u­larly mi­nor­ity Chi­nese, over re­cur­ring cor­rup­tion scan­dals, civil lib­er­ties curbs and con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies fa­vor­ing the eth­nic Ma- lay ma­jor­ity.

Na­jib had vowed to end cor­rup­tion and au­thor­i­tar­ian tac­tics and to re­form the pro-Malay poli­cies.

But fol­low­ing a fur­ther elec­tion set­back in 2013, he aban­doned those ini­tia­tives un­der pres­sure from UMNO con­ser­va­tives, in­clud­ing Ma­hathir.

Ma­hathir, whose ul­ti­mate mo­tives re­main a sub­ject of de­bate, took an un­com­pro­mis­ing stance to­wards civil dis­obe­di­ence as leader. But he said the protests against Na­jib were nec­es­sary.

“If the gov­ern­ment ig­nores the law, we have to demon­strate. If you look at (for­mer Philip­pine pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand) Mar­cos, when he was rul­ing the Philip­pines they had to over­throw him through demon­stra­tions,” Ma­hathir said.

AP

For­mer Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, cen­ter, waves to ac­tivists from the Coali­tion for Clean and Fair Elec­tions (BER­SIH) on his ar­rival dur­ing a rally in Kuala Lumpur, on Sun­day, Aug. 30.

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