Mahathir gathers foes to push for Najib's ouster

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (standing) speaking to the press yesterday after a 58-member group led by him signed what they called a Citizens' Declaration to call for PM Najib's removal from office. The declaration also demanded,
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (standing) speaking to the press yesterday after a 58-member group led by him signed what they called a Citizens' Declaration to call for PM Najib's removal from office. The declaration also demanded, among other things, the repeal of laws that violate fundamental rights.PHOTO: SINCHEW DAILY

Malaysian govt calls move 'political desperation' and says lawful way for change is via polls

Nearly 60 of Malaysia's past and present leaders, along with political activists, have signed a declaration to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak's removal from office, in an unprecedented shift that brought long-time political foes into the same room.

Called the Citizens' Declaration, it was signed by the 58-member group led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday.

"We're not here as representatives of parties and NGOs (non-governmental organisations). We are here as citizens of Malaysia," Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters. He had resigned from Umno on Monday.

"It's not about joining the opposition or joining any particular group. It's about citizens joining together to show support," he said.

The formation of what Dr Mahathir called a "core group" of people seeking Datuk Seri Najib's ouster and reforms for the country's institutions could shake up politics in South-east Asia's third biggest economy, analysts say.

"Today, we see that Tun Mahathir has joined forces with some of his fiercest critics in order to push for change," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of think-tank Ideas. "This development signifies a major shift in Malaysian politics."

'STRANGE' GROUP

As you can all see, this is a very strange group of people. There is only one thing in common - we are citizens of this country.

TUN DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, on the group assembled to remove Datuk Seri Najib.

The declaration has four demands, including one to remove Mr Najib as prime minister using legal, non-violent means, and a second to remove those who acted in concert with Mr Najib.

The other two call for the repeal of laws that violate fundamental rights, and the restoration of institutions whose integrity has been undermined by probes into Mr Najib's alleged financial scandals. These included the police, the central bank, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Najib, with a strong grip on Umno and a big majority in the federal Parliament, is in no danger of being ousted.

But the rainbow alliance highlighted growing disenchantment with the scandal involving an alleged huge political donation and misappropriation at a state fund, which have rattled Malaysia's international standing.

Among those present yesterday were opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang and Mohamed Sabu, both of whom had been jailed under security laws when Dr Mahathir was premier. Opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim, sentenced to five years' jail last year after being convicted of sodomy, lauded the move to unite against the Najib administration.

A Malaysian government spokesman, reacting to the demands by the group, called the effort "political opportunism and desperation".

The spokesman said Dr Mahathir should wait for the next general election, "the only mechanism that is lawful, democratic and fulfils the people's will", if he wants to vote the government out.

While cobbling together the group was a big achievement in itself, its members yesterday did not answer journalists' questions on what they would do next in their effort to topple Mr Najib.

THE BIG NAMES IN THE GROUP

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'Mahathir gathers foes to push for Najib's ouster'. Print Edition | Subscribe