Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday he had asked the country’s nine traditional rulers and four of its governors to dismiss Prime Minister Najib Razak in the wake of a scandal involving the looting of billions of dollars in state funds.
Mahathir said his request was necessary following his “unconvincing” meeting with King Abdul Halim in September during which he presented his “Citizens’ Declaration” endorsed by 1.2 million Malaysians calling on Najib to resign over his alleged involvement in the scandal linked to troubled state fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which Najib chairs.
“We are making an appeal to the rulers to consider our appeal to take action against the wrongdoings of Najib. We want to know if the rulers have an opinion on 1Malaysia Development Berhad and the U.S. DOJ lawsuits,” Mahathir said at a Wednesday news conference at the Perdana Foundation in Putrajaya.
In July, the United States Justice Department (DOJ) filed a dozen lawsuits seeking to recover more than $1 billion in assets it said had been stolen from 1MDB and illegally laundered through American financial institutions.
Najib has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain in the 1MDB affair.
“The civil suits brought by the U.S. Justice Department regarding 1MDB must be given space and opportunity for the judicial process to be carried out. Any individual who has been named must clear their own names,” Najib said in a Facebook post in late July.
“The government will fully cooperate in this case and, God willing, sooner or later we will know the truth. As has often been emphasized, the government will ensure that no public money has been misused,” he added.
The declaration campaign launched by Mahathir and 40 others in March calls for Malaysians to join in a quest to remove Najib from office through peaceful means.
Mahathir said he had promised all who signed the declaration that he would send letters about it to the sultans and governors who represent Malaysia’s 13 states and comprise the country’s Conference of Rulers. The conference is scheduled to meet next week.
There was no immediate reply to requests for comments on Mahathir’s announcement sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, spokesman for ruling Barisan Nasional coalition Rahman Dahlan, and Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.
It was not immediately clear whether the Conference of Rulers, a largely ceremonial body, has the power to dismiss the country’s prime minister.
“The Constitution provides that in exercising his functions, the YDPA [king] must generally follow the advice of the prime minister or cabinet,” according to an article on Malaysia’s executives posted on the Malaysian Bar association website.
Lawyers for Mahathir claim that the Malaysian constitution does grant that power to the king.
“People have been questioning whether the king has the power to remove or act against current ruling party leader. From my point of view, the answer to the question is in the constitution itself – the highest piece of legislation in the country,” Mahathir’s lead counsel Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said recently.
“Article 40(2) (a) states that the King may act in his discretion in the appointment of a prime minister. Yes, it doesn’t talk about the power to dismiss the prime minister,” Haniff told BenarNews after a forum on the topic in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 30.
But, according to Haniff, Section 29 of the 11th Schedule under the constitution mentions “where a written law confers upon any person or authority a power to make appointments to any office, the power shall be construed as including a power to dismiss or suspend any person appointed and to appoint another person temporarily in the place of any person so suspended”.
Former de-facto law minister Nazri Aziz dismissed Haniff’s interpretation, saying the king can only remove a Prime Minister if he has lost majority support in parliament.
“In the constitution it stated that, Agong [the king] appointed prime minister according to majority of the support he receives in the parliament. As long as the current PM has the majority standing at his side, he cannot be removed from his position.
“Agong can’t simply remove PM like a walk in the park. We must follow proper procedure, the process must take place in the parliament,” he was quoted as saying in a Free Malaysia Today report.
Malaysia’s nine sultans take turns as the country’s constitutional monarch under a unique rotational system introduced in the 1950s.
In a rare comment last year, the rulers called for a swift, transparent investigation into 1MDB, saying the government’s failure to give convincing answers on the scandal may have resulted in a “crisis of confidence.”
The former prime minister met Sept. 15 with the king to discuss calls for Najib’s removal from office. The meeting lasted more than an hour at the palace in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah.
“In the end, I could not convince the king,” Mahathir said Wednesday.
“I can’t repeat what he said because this was (done) in confidence. What we have requested cannot be implemented. Why? Don’t ask me. Maybe he thinks he has no power,” Mahathir said.
A. Ariffin contributed to this report.