'No Surrender,' Malaysian PM Warns Critics of Corruption Scandal

Nani Yusof
151210-MY-najib-1000 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) inspects an honor guard during the annual congress of the ruling United National Malays Organization (UMNO) party, in Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 10, 2015.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed Thursday not to give in to pressure to resign over a corruption scandal, and invoked race and religion while rallying his party’s faithful at its annual meeting.

“No retreat! No surrender!,” Najib said during a rousing speech at the United National Malays Organization (UMNO) party general assembly in Kuala Lumpur, as he dismissed calls to step down because of the scandal.

UMNO leads Barisan Nasional, a coalition that has ruled multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia since 1957, but the party is made up exclusively of members of the ethnic Malay majority who are mostly Muslim.

But the party’s popularity has declined in recent years and it now finds itself vying for votes with a faith-based opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) as well as an opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim. He is now in prison after being convicted of sodomizing an aide, in a case widely regarded as politically motivated.

Support for Najib’s coalition has slipped in the last two general elections. In 2013, it won the polls but lost the popular vote for the first time to Anwar’s alliance.

In a speech that lasted nearly two hours, Najib also played to his party’s religious and racial base by suggesting that a disaster would befall the country’s Muslims if UMNO lost the next general election, which will take place in 2018.

“I mean, if and should UMNO be rejected, this country would be ruled by those who are against the Islamic struggle and rejecting the struggle to protect the Malays and Bumiputra [sons of the soil],” the prime minister said.

“[D]o we want to gamble the future of our children and Islam to others, besides the current Malay and Islamic leadership?” he added, according to an English translation of his Malay-language speech.

‘Hiding behind the name of Islam’

Mahfuz Omar, a PAS parliamentarian who represents Pokok Sena in Kedah state, shot back at Najib after the speech, saying Malays were facing disaster because of UMNO’s misrule.

“Since when is UMNO fighting for Islam and the Malays’ interest?” Mahfuz told BenarNews on Thursday.

“Corruption, abuse of power is not the teaching in Islam and Malay personal culture. What UMNO is doing is hiding behind the name of Islam and Malays to justify all the crime they did,” added Mahfuz, who also serves as information chief for PAS.

In June, PAS split from Anwar’s alliance, which included the predominantly Chinese Democratic Action Party.

Foreign leader gave money: Deputy PM

Najib’s speech came at the end of a tumultuous year for the prime minister, who has led the country since 2009. Calls for his resignation have besieged Najib in recent months, after allegations emerged that nearly $700 million was deposited into his private bank accounts.

The prime minister has fired back at his critics, and his government has been clamping down on free speech and threatening to lock people up on charges of sedition or fomenting trouble, especially since news of the scandal broke in early July.

Najib has acknowledged that the large sum of money was deposited into his bank via government entities linked to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an indebted state development fund. He has repeatedly denied any wrong doing and maintained that the money was donated to him.

On Saturday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) interviewed the prime minister about the deposit as part of its investigation into the 1MDB affair. Later, the commission confirmed it had sent MACC representatives to the Middle East, where the donation came from, to interview the donor.

On Wednesday, however, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told Agenda Daily, a website that covers Malaysian politics, that the controversial donation had come from the leader of a foreign country.

“That government leader had given a greater amount of funds to other Muslim countries, too,” Zahid said in the interview, but without naming the country or explaining for what purpose the donated cash was intended.

“[T]hat county has not even asked for any contract or project from us,” the deputy PM added. “We should be grateful that the country did not ask [for] anything.”


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