Malaysia: In Protest, Ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Quits UMNO Party

Hata Wahari
Putrajaya, Malaysia
160229-MY-Mahathir-1000 Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during an interview at his office in Kuala Lumpur, June 14 2012. He quit the UMNO party on Monday.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed on Monday quit the ruling UMNO party, accusing it of shielding current leader Najib Razak from corruption allegations.

In announcing his exit from the party that has headed the country’s ruling coalition since 1957 and over which he presided for 22 years, Mahathir claimed that the United Malays National Organization no longer existed as a political party but “Najib’s party.”

“I will not be a member of a party led by a leader who was involved with the various ignominious scandals,” Mahathir, one of Najib’s fiercest critics, said while reading out a statement to reporters in Putrajaya.

“UMNO is now despised in society,” he went on to say, pointing to how party officials had fended off public criticism over the deposit of U.S. $681 million (2.6 billion ringgit) into Najib’s private bank accounts and alleged mismanagement of money linked to the debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Najib has claimed that he did not benefit from the large deposit that was made prior to the 2013 general election.

Mahathir, who served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, said he would not join another party.

Last week, police questioned the 90-year-old ex-PM, after he had posted an entry on his blog site criticizing the country’s attorney general for recently clearing Najib of potential corruption-related charges.

On Monday, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said Mahathir did the right thing by resigning from the party.

“This is probably for the best because when one’s relationship with the party or the party leader is no longer tenable, then it is pointless for one to remain in the party,” Salleh said in a statement.

“If Dr. Mahathir wants to continue to attack UMNO, then he should do so outside UMNO. That would be the noble and ethical thing to do,” Salleh added.

‘Emergence of a new dictatorship’

Mahathir’s latest comments about UMNO followed the suspension of former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as the party’s deputy president on Friday.

Last July, Najib sacked Muhyiddin as his deputy for criticizing him publically over corruption allegations connected to 1MDB. In suspending Muhyiddin from his post as UMNO deputy president, officials said he “did not properly assist” Najib in his role as party president.

Muhyiddin responded with a lengthy Facebook post on Saturday, in which he called for the prime minister to be investigated and prosecuted. A former attorney general told him that a criminal act had been committed, Muhyiddin claimed.

“In the face of public outrage against his leadership, Najib uses all the powers available to him to suppress dissenting voices and silence critics. We are indeed witnessing the collapse of democratic institutions and the emergence of a new dictatorship,” Muhyiddin wrote.

UMNO Supreme Council member Azalina Othman Said challenged Muhyiddin’s statement, retorting that there seemed to be a political conspiracy to overthrow Razak, The Star reported.

It would have been unethical for the prosecutor to brief Muhyiddin as well as a breach of the Official Secrets Act, she said.

Hafiz Abbas and S. Adie Zul contributed to this report.

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