TROUBLED Prime Minister Najib Razak has been forced to wade into yet another crisis in his ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, this time involving junior coalition partner Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).
He said yesterday he would summon the president of MIC to explain why the latter blamed him for causing the protracted power struggle within the ethnic Indian party that stretches back to their November 2013 internal polls.
MIC chief Palanivel Govindasamy had told a gathering of supporters in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday that "Barisan Nasional and the PM himself got involved in putting pressure on MIC to reject the results of our validated 2013 elections and on the party to take sides with our detractors".
Datuk Seri Najib - who is already fighting off attacks by influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad and claims of abuse of public funds by debt-laden state investment company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) - issued a brief statement yesterday saying he would "summon Datuk Seri Palanivel to explain his reported comments".
"He should stop blaming others, and must abide by the decision of the courts and Registrar of Societies (RoS)," the Prime Minister said.
The RoS had ruled that there were irregularities in the vote count at the 2013 party elections, but Mr Palanivel, who is also the Environment Minister, had chosen to contest this in court.
The High Court decided against the MIC chief last week but he insisted on Saturday the 2013 vote was still valid and fresh polls to affirm the current leadership would be held in August.
But MIC deputy president S. Subramaniam - who has said he will contest the presidency in any forthcoming vote - said after the court decision that the president was disqualified as a member for bringing a party matter to court, a breach of MIC's Constitution.
The spat has left the party in a legal quandary, with Dr Subramaniam's camp wanting to go ahead with a re-vote, organised by the leadership from 2009, to replace the 2013 polls by next month.
But the legitimacy of the 2009 leadership would almost certainly be challenged by Mr Palanivel, who insists that the 2013 central committee - which largely supports him - is still in power.
While Mr Najib has faced increasing pressure from within his own party, Umno, he had retained unwavering backing from coalition partners until Saturday's rebuke by Mr Palanivel.
The MIC president could not be reached for comment but his aide told The Straits Times that Mr Palanivel was determined to hold party polls in August. The aide added that an appointment with the Prime Minister had yet to be set.
Meanwhile, Mr Palanivel's rival, Dr Subramaniam, yesterday also dismissed claims that Mr Najib had interfered in MIC's affairs, despite the Umno president having said in January that he would seek a formula to resolve the coalition partner's internal crisis.
Dr Subramaniam told a press conference the RoS had declared the 2013 election null and void after some candidates had complained of irregularities.
"In this process, there is no role for the PM. At most, he met us twice - (and said) 'Why don't you all solve the problem' - that's all," he said, after holding his own rally for supporters yesterday.