Mahathir Mohamad to launch party to challenge PM Najib

Dr Mahathir (seated, third from left) speaking to the press yesterday. With him are (from left) Parti Amanah Negara deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, PKR vice-president Shamsul Iskandar, PAS MP Mahfuz Omar and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang.
Dr Mahathir (seated, third from left) speaking to the press yesterday. With him are (from left) Parti Amanah Negara deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, PKR vice-president Shamsul Iskandar, PAS MP Mahfuz Omar and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Influential ex-premier says proposed party will work with opposition, with aim of ousting Najib's government

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad will be helming a new political party that will work with other opposition parties to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno-led government.

Speaking to reporters yesterday after a meeting of his Save Malaysia campaign - the anti-Najib group of political and civil society figures - he said the new party will provide a platform for those who are against Datuk Seri Najib but who are unwilling to join the existing opposition parties.

The impending formation of the new party by Malaysia's longest- serving prime minister, who is 91, stirred excitement as well as curiosity among the badly split opposition ranks and an electorate worn out by politicking.

Former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, who resigned from the party two weeks ago, Democratic Action Party (DAP) supremo Lim Kit Siang, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice-president Shamsul Iskandar, Parti Amanah Negara deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) MP Mahfuz Omar were among those at the meeting.

"There is a need for a new party to be formed to represent people who are not yet in the (Save Malaysia) group, which has the same objective as this group," Dr Mahathir said.

Asked if he would lead the new party, the former premier said he would be "the first among equals, perhaps, among the elders and leaders".

The plan for a new party is the latest gambit by Dr Mahathir in his quest to force Mr Najib to step down over a financial scandal linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB, which is currently the subject of investigations in at least seven countries.

Dr Mahathir's son and former Kedah chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir, and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin - both of whom were sacked from the party by Mr Najib as he moved to buttress his leadership - were not present at the meeting yesterday.

Both men are widely expected to lead the planned new party.

"We, who oppose Najib, cannot achieve victory unless we work together as a coalition," said Dr Mahathir, who has spearheaded calls over the past year for Mr Najib to resign but to no avail.

Dr Mahathir quit Umno in February to pressure Mr Najib to leave, then formed the Save Malaysia campaign in March, and stumped for the opposition in two by-elections last month.

The plan to form a new political party comes amid turmoil in opposition ranks, which has led to big losses for it in the Sarawak state election in May, and two by-elections in Selangor and Perak.

Adding to the opposition's woes is the wariness among some that Dr Mahathir might be hijacking the opposition's reform agenda merely to topple Mr Najib.

Jailed opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim penned a letter to his colleagues in May, warning that Dr Mahathir's campaign was "flawed and inconsistent with reforms" pursued by his party, the PKR.

The opposition has also been weakened by PAS' decision to move closer to Mr Najib's Umno.

PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man this week called for a truce among the opposition parties, but some are wary of his overture.

Dr Mahathir, when asked to elaborate on whether the opposition would agree to a ceasefire with PAS, said: "We hope they will not attack us, and we will not attack them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Mahathir plans new political party'. Print Edition | Subscribe