Najib refutes Mahathir's 'outside council' idea

He calls having such a body to advise the PM 'undemocratic, contrary to Constitution'

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday moved to head off a potential extra-legal challenge to his leadership by saying that any appointment of a council of elders to guide the premier is undemocratic and against the country's Constitution.

Datuk Seri Najib, in a blog post, did not make any reference to why he brought up the subject. But his comments were made just a week after his fiercest critic, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, floated the idea that since Cabinet ministers are beholden to the country's leader, it would be useful to have "an outside council" advising the prime minister.

Tun Dr Mahathir told a news conference last week that he had suggested to a group of people that having an appointed council of elders to advise the prime minister would be beneficial to the prime minister.

He had said: "In the system that we have now, the prime minister chooses his own Cabinet, and he chooses people who will support him all the way. And, of course, that means whatever he does will be okayed by the Cabinet.

"Whereas an outside council, appointed by other people, will not agree with the prime minister all the time. They can give their opinion. Maybe the prime minister would not accept, but at least he would hear other opinions."

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... an outside council, appointed by other people, will not agree with the prime minister all the time. They can give their opinion. Maybe the prime minister would not accept, but at least he would hear other opinions.

TUN DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, on how a council of elders would be beneficial to the prime minister

Dr Mahathir has tried various means to remove Mr Najib from power in the last year, including by attacking him on issues linked to the discovery of some US$700 million (S$995 million) found in the Premier's personal bank accounts and the debt-laden state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad, whose board of advisers is led by Mr Najib.

Dr Mahathir had also uncharacteristically attended a street rally backed by the opposition in August, and is supporting a move by opposition lawmakers to put together a vote of no-confidence against Mr Najib in Parliament.

Thus, the call to have a so-called council of elders to advise the prime minister is seen as another move by Dr Mahathir to undercut Mr Najib. A columnist with The Star newspaper suggested that Dr Mahathir himself would be calling the shots in such as council.

In his response, Mr Najib wrote that he was elected by his party, which was voted in by the people in the general election.

"Any form of council is not the choice of the people, if it aims to oversee a leader. Therefore, it can be deemed as undemocratic and is directly contrary to the Constitution, which is based on democratic principles".

He added: "If there is a body that can control an elected leader, then we will begin to diverge from the democratic system, which has been the cornerstone of the security and development of our country".

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir yesterday said the policemen who interviewed him last week for his involvement with the Bersih 4.0 rally on Aug 30 might want to turn his remarks into a crime so that he could be charged.

He had repeatedly called for Mr Najib's ouster, while police have said that the street rally by the election reform group was illegal.

"Although they (police) did not say I would be charged, there was just a hint that I might be charged," he said in a blog post yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Najib refutes Mahathir's 'outside council' idea'. Print Edition | Subscribe