Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is drawing support from an unlikely source in his efforts to get the current PM to resign over a financial scandal – jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
From his prison cell Ibrahim on Thursday posted a statement on his blog, in which he stated his backing for the 90-year-old former PM and others who have criticized Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations linked to the debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
“I support the position of friends in civil society, political parties and individuals including Tun Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and others to build up strength and common understanding together,” Ibrahim said, referring to Mahathir and a former deputy prime minister whom Najib sacked in July 2015 for criticizing in public over the scandal.
“The 1MDB scandal involving the prime minister is the most severe scandal in our history and has badly damaged our nation’s image,” wrote Anwar, the leader of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR).
“This can only happen when power is centered in one individual such as the prime minister, as well as the failure of key financial, judicial and enforcement institutes to perform their tasks independently without fear or favor.”
Anwar is serving a five-year sentence for a 2008 sodomy conviction.
He is Mahathir’s former No. 2.
But in 1998, then-Prime Minister Mahathir dismissed him as his deputy. That year Anwar was also booted from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that heads a coalition that has ruled Malaysia since 1957.
Shortly afterward Anwar was arrested, convicted and jailed on corruption and different sodomy charges. In 2004, the sodomy conviction was overturned but his corruption conviction stood.
In Thursday’s statement, he also called for political change in Malaysia.
The common understanding that he hoped to build with Mahathir, Muhyiddin and others would, Anwar wrote, “focus on the demand for Najib to resign as prime minister as he has clearly failed to lead this nation. He is responsible for continuing to engage in selfish political acts, wreaking havoc upon administrative institutions and burdening the Rakyat [people] with continued economic crisis.”
“We have also learned from history that meaningful transition of power cannot happen only with a change of leadership but it also demands a systemic change,” Anwar went on to say.
Najib has denied all allegations related to scandals tied to 1MBD and a 2.08 billion ringgit (U.S. $681 million) deposit made to his private bank accounts prior to the 2013 general election.
In January, Malaysia’s attorney general cleared the prime minister of any wrongdoing linked to the deposit, saying it was a donation to Najib from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.
Muhyiddin, Mahathir’s son stay with UMNO
Anwar’s statement of support for Mahathir came three days after the ex-PM – who is popularly known as “Dr. M” – announced that he was quitting UMNO in protest over the scandal and what he said was the party’s efforts to protect Najib from corruption allegations.
Last week, the party suspended Muhyiddin Yassin from his post as its deputy president, saying that he had breached UMNO’s constitution by failing to assist its president, Najib, in his duties as party chief.
On Thursday, Muhyiddin vowed that he would not quit UMNO but warned he would fight “crimes against the party.”
“I was with UMNO since the ’70s. I never said I wanted to leave the party. So today I decided to stay and fight the party from within,” he told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Former Kedah state Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir – the son of the former prime minister – joined Muhyiddin in announcing his intention to remain a party member.
Mukhriz, who was forced to resign from the Kedah post last month, blamed UMNO at the time for leading an effort to remove him.
Mukhriz said that while he did not follow in his father’s footsteps by quitting UMNO, they were pursuing the same objective.
“I was with Muhyiddin and remain a member of UMNO,” Mukhriz said. “I decided to criticize from within and this does not contradict the efforts of Mahathir.
“This approach may be different, but the principle is the same – going after and exposing the truth in the face of evil and falsehood,” Mukhriz said.
Haireez Azeem Azizi contributed to this report.