Motley crew gathers at rally to step up pressure on Najib

Dr Mahathir flanked by sidelined Umno leaders, opposition politicians and political activists at the congress billed as Gerakan Selamatkan Malaysia, or the Save Malaysia Movement. The group will go around Malaysia till June to collect signatures from
Dr Mahathir flanked by sidelined Umno leaders, opposition politicians and political activists at the congress billed as Gerakan Selamatkan Malaysia, or the Save Malaysia Movement. The group will go around Malaysia till June to collect signatures from voters calling for Prime Minister Najib to step down.PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Unlikely congress comes after months of attacks failed to substantially dent PM's support

SHAH ALAM • Sidelined Umno leaders and Malaysian opposition politicians yesterday sat together in an unlikely congress in a bid to ratchet up pressure against Prime Minister Najib Razak, after months of attacks over a funding scandal failed to substantially dent his support.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and opposition supremo Lim Kit Siang were among those who addressed some 2,000 people at the congress held at a convention centre in the Selangor capital.

The group will go around Malaysia till June to collect signatures from voters calling for Datuk Seri Najib to step down, said Mr Khairuddin Abu Hassan, a former Umno divisional leader, as quoted by Bloomberg.

"Under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia is struggling with corruption and money scandals to an extent so serious that we have never faced before," former law minister Zaid Ibrahim said at the rally. "We are ashamed of what is happening to the country now. We cannot be patient anymore."

Mr Najib is facing pressure to step down amid alleged financial misappropriation of some US$700 million (S$961 million) involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which he said were donations from the Saudi royal family.

The premier sacked Tan Sri Muhyiddin from his Cabinet last July, and replaced the Attorney-General and the Special Branch intelligence chief as he fought to retain his position.

Several of the opposition leaders had been jailed when Tun Dr Mahathir was premier for 22 years until 2003, but they said they were putting aside the past.

The stage at yesterday's rally was shared by several sidelined Umno leaders, and opposition chiefs from the Democratic Action Party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Islam SeMalaysia. The meeting was billed as Gerakan Selamatkan Malaysia, or the Save Malaysia Movement.

Several of the opposition leaders had been jailed when Tun Dr Mahathir was premier for 22 years until 2003, but they said they were putting aside the past.

"I was arrested twice under ISA (Internal Security Act) during Tun Mahathir's time. But this is not about avenging the past," said Mr Mohamed Sabu, president of opposition Parti Amanah Nasional, as quoted by The Star newspaper. "Should I be hitting out at a retired prime minister when I should be hitting out at the current leadership?"

Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister sacked by Dr Mahathir in 1998, is among those backing the ex-premier, his former mentor.

Dr Mahathir last month quit Umno which he said is refusing to replace Mr Najib. Dr Mahathir three weeks ago joined up with Umno rebels, the opposition parties and civil society activists to begin a new campaign to pressure the premier to step down.

The motley crew has so far failed to excite Malaysians much, partly due to fatigue caused by years of political fighting.

Asked how a new man in the Prime Minister's Office could change the country, Dr Mahathir said that regardless of who replaces Mr Najib, the new leader should not abuse his power.

"They can do what I did, I was also a dictator before, but that is all right. People did not demonstrate like this against me before," The Star quoted him as saying in jest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Motley crew gathers at rally to step up pressure on Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe