Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir renews attacks against PM Najib

Just days after Datuk Seri Najib Razak took to national television to answer his critics, Malaysia's influential former leader Mahathir Mohamad resumed his attacks, accusing the embattled Prime Minister of failing to offer substantial answers and breaking a promise to build a so-called "crooked bridge" to Singapore.

Tun Dr Mahathir also claimed that the ruling party Umno "is about money", and its leaders supported Mr Najib only "because they get contracts".

Mr Najib, in an hour-long programme on Umno-controlled TV3 on Thursday night, denied any involvement in a 2006 murder case believed to be linked to the purchase of two French submarines, justified amendments to the Sedition Act that critics say are meant to stifle free speech, and defended taxes and cash handouts as part of his economic policy.

He also insisted that debt-laden state investment company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) has more assets than liabilities.

Referring to recent allegations that parties close to him had used 1MDB as a front to divert public funds, Mr Najib, who heads its advisory board, also said he "will not condone any abuse of power in 1MDB, such as the siphoning of money".

"That is not an answer. Which other answers did he give? Tell me," Dr Mahathir said in a video which surfaced at the weekend. He had given an interview to several bloggers.

"The Umno now is about money. Umno leaders are loyal because they get contracts. The ones who have positions get money," he added.

Mr Najib is the second prime minister Dr Mahathir has called on to resign. Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003, was furious when his successor Abdullah Badawi cancelled several of his mega projects, among them the crooked bridge and the double-tracking railway to Singapore.

The crooked bridge, a six-lane S-shaped link to replace the Malaysian half of the Causeway, was Dr Mahathir's solution when Singapore refused to replace the highway, which would have allowed ships to sail through the Johor Strait instead of around the island.

Mr Najib said on Thursday night that Dr Mahathir wanted him to revive the project. However, the Prime Minister already agreed to a proposal with Singapore to construct a third link instead.

Dr Mahathir said in the interview that "we should not kowtow to Singapore", and that "Najib at one time had said if Singapore agrees or does not agree, we will do it... But when he became Prime Minister, he did not do it".

Dr Mahathir's renewed attack comes even as Umno leaders and its media have called on him to cease fire instead of further hurting Umno, which has been in rule since independence in 1957.

After Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin pleaded for Dr Mahathir and Mr Najib to meet and iron out differences, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, who was trade minister in Dr Mahathir's Cabinet, said on Friday that it was time to stop the blame game as "we do not want to see the Barisan Nasional government threatened".

Umno mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia said in an editorial that the opposition would exploit the situation and that the Chinese- dominated Democratic Action Party, the largest opposition party in Parliament, is "smiling away" after Dr Mahathir's attacks.

shannont@sph.com.sg