Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET on 2016-09-16
Malaysia’s King granted a rare audience Thursday to former Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad to discuss public calls for the removal of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal, according to Mahathir’s son and aides.
King Abdul Halim met Mahathir for more than an hour at his palace in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah as the ex-premier submitted to him a “People’s Declaration” endorsed by more than 1 million Malaysians calling on Najib to quit over his alleged involvement in the looting of billions of dollars in state funds, Mukhriz Mahathir told BenarNews.
Najib has flatly rejected the corruption charges, linked to the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and deposits into his private accounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I can confirm the meeting was held at 4:45 p.m. today (Thursday) in the palace,” Mukhriz said. “We honestly thought it’s going to be a short meeting, probably 30 minutes, but it lasted one hour and 15 minutes.
“Now that we have submitted the declaration, at least we can now tell the people that we have done our part,” said Mukhriz, who was the chief minister of Kedah state before Najib’s loyalists forced him out of power earlier this year.
“...[T]he ball is no longer in our court. The appeal made by 1.4 million Malaysian signatories have now been passed to the King,” Mukhriz said of the four-eyed meeting between Mahathir and King Abdul Halim, 89, who has been the long serving sultan of Kedah.
Former Premier Mahathir Mohamad signs the guest book at the Istana Anak Bukit in Alor Setar, Kedah before meeting the Malaysian King on Thursday evening, Sept. 15, 2016 [Courtesy of Khairuddin Abu Hassan]
Malaysia’s nine sultans take turns to become the country’s constitutional monarch under a unique rotational system introduced toward the end of British colonial rule in the 1950s.
Malay Muslims 60 percent of population
Their roles are largely ceremonial, and the power to govern Malaysia resides with parliament and the prime minister. But the traditional rulers are regarded as the supreme upholder of the Malay tradition and the symbolic head of Islam. Malay Muslims comprise some 60 percent of multi-racial Malaysia’s 26 million people.
Last year, in rare comments, the rulers had called for a swift, transparent investigation into the troubled state-fund 1MDB, saying the government’s failure to give convincing answers on the scandal may have resulted in a “crisis of confidence.”
Mukhriz said he did not know the details of the discussions between Mahathir and the King in Anak Bukit, the royal town of Kedah.
Sufi Yusuf, special officer to Mahathir, and the former’s leader’s lawyer, Mohamad Haniff Khatri, also confirmed the one-on-one talks.
“Dr. Mahathir received an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong [King] this evening and submitted the People’s Declaration and [discussed] matters pertaining to the declaration,” Sufi told BenarNews.
“I can’t divulge other details,” he said. “He [Mahathir] went to the meeting without being accompanied by anyone.”
The King’s principal private secretary, Syed Unan Mashri Syed Abdullah, when contacted by BenarNews couldn’t confirm the meeting, saying he was away performing his pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
The mainstream Malaysian media did not carry any reports on Thursday about Mahathir’s talks with the King.
While rejecting the corruption charges, Najib has launched a crackdown on dissent and assumed sweeping security powers that some critics say threaten human rights and democracy and could be used to disallow protests.
Najib dismisses declaration
The People’s Declaration was put up for signatures online and on paper after Mahathir and nearly 60 other opposition leaders as well as civil society leaders launched it in March in a rare show of solidarity.
Aside from calling for the removal of Najib through legal, non-violent means, the declaration, which has gathered 1.4 million signatures as at July, sought the repeal of laws that violate fundamental rights, and the restoration of institutions whose integrity has allegedly been undermined, such as the police, the central bank and Malaysia’s anti-corruption body.
Najib’s government has dismissed the declaration, saying the move by Mahathir and his allies “demonstrated the depth of their political opportunism and desperation.”
“There is an existing mechanism to change the government and prime minister. It’s called a general election. And it is the only mechanism that is lawful, democratic, and fulfils the people’s will,” a government statement had said.
Early this year, Mahathir had quit the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), saying he could no longer stay in a party dedicated to supporting the scandal-plagued Najib.