Malaysia's ruling party appears to have consolidated behind the embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak days after his shock sacking of senior party leaders Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal from the Cabinet.
An Umno Supreme Council member revealed yesterday that 154 out of 191 divisions had endorsed Datuk Seri Najib's Cabinet reshuffle prior to last Tuesday's announcement.
Even influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad - who had for months led calls for Mr Najib to step down - admitted that Umno leaders had "crossed over" and now fully supported their president.
Umno deputy president Muhyiddin was sacked as deputy premier two days after he criticised the Prime Minister's handling of allegations of abuse of public funds linked to troubled state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said Umno division chiefs discussed Tan Sri Muhyiddin's comments via mobile messaging application Telegram, and an overwhelming majority agreed to the decision for him to be removed from Cabinet.
LOYALTY IS RARE
I will evaluate people based on their loyalty. There are a lot of smart people around but to find those who are loyal is rare. But by loyalty, I don't mean blind loyalty. We have to work together in order to make our party strong.
PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK, on how much he values loyalty in his associates.
NOT FOR FOREIGNERS TO DECIDE
I cannot allow white people, the foreigners to determine our future. What is their right?
DATUK SERI NAJIB, slamming Ms Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the editor of Sarawak Report, which has been running a series of stories on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad controversy, and has even linked Mr Najib to the scandal
"One hundred and fifty-four hands were shown. This means the president did not act alone when he made the decision," Datuk Aziz said at a divisional meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, referring to party president Najib. Mr Aziz said the Cabinet reshuffle was akin to removing "cancer" from the party.
A Kuala Lumpur-based division chief Shafei Abdullah told The Straits Times the Telegram group included more than 170 of Umno's divisional leaders, and he had joined a "nearly unanimous decision" to support the reshuffle.
While Umno appeared to be rallying around Mr Najib, a number of groups have called for protests against him. About 100 people rallied against the Prime Minister yesterday in Kuala Lumpur, calling for his arrest over allegations US$700 million (S$952 million) linked to 1MDB ended up in his personal accounts.
Adding to growing concerns, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar dismissed rumours that Kuala Lumpur would descend into chaos because of yesterday's and other rallies being planned. He said there was "no such thing" as leave being frozen for police personnel.
State Umno chiefs met at the Prime Minister's residence late on Friday and agreed to allow Mr Muhyiddin to remain as deputy president. But Mr Aziz said yesterday the former deputy premier could face disciplinary action for claiming that Mr Najib admitted to receiving RM2.6 billion from "the Middle East" in a video which Mr Aziz claimed was intentionally leaked on Wednesday. "It appeared as if it was all arranged as it happened in his own home," Malaysiakini reported Mr Aziz as saying.
The money was likely a reference to the US$700 million linked to 1MDB that the Wall Street Journal alleged on July 3 was transferred to Mr Najib's personal accounts over the past two years. The PM has denied ever using state funds for personal gain, but has not made clear if the money entered his accounts.
Instead, Mr Najib and the new Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi both argued yesterday the finance ministry-owned firm's funds did not come from taxpayers, but that it had raised debt - which reached RM42 billion in just five years - from third parties in the banking sector.
In a speech at the Seremban division's annual general assembly yesterday, Mr Najib said he was ready to publicly declare sources of Umno's political funding if opposition parties also agreed to do so.
Elsewhere, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition's strategic communications director Abdul Rahman Dahlan said Umno's Constitution provided for the president to hold the party's money in trust.
He also said the government had a plan to cut 1MDB's debts and needed six months to turn around the company. Bernama quoted him as saying several foreign parties had expressed interest to invest in 1MDB projects, including the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, and China's Ambassador to Malaysia.
In his speech, Mr Najib also warned he valued loyalty over intelligence and that while he accepted criticism behind closed doors, a "ship can only have one captain".