Obama will raise concerns about status of the opposition during Malaysia visit: White House

US President Barack Obama will have a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday, Nov 19.
US President Barack Obama will have a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday, Nov 19. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (Reuters/AFP) - United States President Barack Obama will "very directly"raise concerns about the status of the opposition when he visits Malaysia, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on Thursday (Nov 19).

Mr Rhodes, speaking to reporters at an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila, said Mr Obama would have a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Kuala Lumpur on Friday (Nov 19) , ahead of the weekend Asean summit.

The visit is Obama's second to Malaysia in two years. In December 2014, Mr Obama played golf with Datuk Seri Najib in Hawaii, which some commentators said illustrated the close personal relations between the two leaders.

"We are going to be very candid about areas where we have disagreements and differences and frankly objections if we see that the type of universal values that we support are not being respected," Mr Rhodes said.

Malaysia's opposition leader on Thursday urged Mr Obama to press for democratic reforms when he visits Kuala Lumpur for a weekend summit, saying the country was becoming an "intolerant autocracy".

"We call upon President Obama to use the opportunity of his tour in this region to reiterate the necessity for democratic reforms," opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a statement.

"He needs to remind (Malaysian) Prime Minister Najib Razak that trade and economic development must go hand in hand with advancing human rights and good governance."

Critics have accused Datuk Seri Najib of an escalating crackdown on dissent and free expression following an election setback in 2013.

His opponents say the situation has worsened after it was revealed in July that nearly US$700 million in mysterious deposits were made to his personal bank accounts.

Mr Najib had already been under fire over allegations of huge sums missing from a state-owned company he launched.

He denies wrongdoing but is yet to detail the source and purpose of the money he received.

Shortly after the July revelations, Mr Najib purged critics from his cabinet, fired the longtime attorney-general, and his government has detained or placed legal pressure on whistleblowers seeking to expose the scandal.

Mr Obama, now in Manila for a regional economic summit, arrives Friday for an Asia-Pacific diplomatic gathering hosted this year by Malaysia.

His administration has sought to increase diplomatic and trade links with Asia, but Dr Wan Azizah urged Mr Obama to press for reforms during his visit.

Dr Wan Azizah, 62, took over as opposition leader earlier this year, replacing her husband Anwar Ibrahim after he was jailed in February for five years on a charge he sodomised a former male aide.

Anwar says the case was concocted to derail opposition political gains.

The US State Department has said Anwar's jailing raised questions about rule of law and judicial independence. His removal has left the opposition reeling.

Malaysia's longtime governing coalition touts the country as a model of multi-culturalism and moderate Islam, but rights groups and other critics accuse Mr Najib's government of tolerating or abetting provocative racial and religious rhetoric to shore up its Muslim base.

"Malaysia is now at risk of moving towards an intolerant autocracy," Dr Wan Azizah said.

Earlier in November, Anwar's family released a report by a UN watchdog on detentions which said Anwar, 68, was denied a fair trial and was jailed for political reasons. It called for his immediate release.

Mr Najib's government has rejected the conclusions by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Malaysia is among signatories to the 12-country, US-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.