TANJUNG KLING (MALAYSIA) - Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said he has accepted that he could be in line for a prison term following the launch of a formal inquiry into a multi-billion-dollar foreign exchange scandal involving the central bank in the 1990s.
Dr Mahathir was the country's prime minister at that time.
Now the leader of opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), the 92-year-old described the setting up of the formal inquiry as a witch hunt by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government to create reasons to incarcerate opposition leaders ahead of the next general election, reported New Straits Times.
"This was an issue that had been studied, researched and debated in Parliament at the time and it was found that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the prime minister at the time, which was me," said Dr Mahathir on Sunday (July 9).
He was speaking before an attendance of about 5,000 people at the PPBM Hari Raya open house at a resort in Malacca. PPBM president and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was also present.
Dr Mahathir said the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) and other similar moves showed an aggressive move to derail opposition leaders by the BN government.
"Maybe they think by jailing opposition leaders, it will ease their task of winning the general elections," said Dr Mahathir in comments reported by the New Straits Times.
"But this will not work because the tide of the people against the government does not depend solely on the opposition leaders.
"The parties themselves are strong enough to win the elections."
Dr Mahathir on Sunday also responded to assumptions that he is collaborating with jailed Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim as he feared repercussions should the latter become prime minister, reported New Straits Times.
"We are collaborating because we share a common goal," he said.
In an interview with The Guardian recently, Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying that he would not object to Anwar returning to politics and becoming prime minister if the latter is given a royal pardon. But last Friday, he denied supporting Anwar to become the next prime minister, reported The Star newspaper.
"If the opposition wins (the next general election), the new seventh prime minister will have to work to release him. Until then, he cannot be PM," he told reporters after a book launch in Petaling Jaya.
Anwar is serving a five-year prison sentence for sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008. He will be barred from contesting in any election for five years after he is freed from prison.
Meanwhile, Umno Youth vice-chief Khairul Azwan Harun said the criticisms made by Dr Mahathir against Prime Minister Najib Razak is an effort to manipulate the people to hate the government, reported Bernama news agency.
"Mahathir's humiliation efforts against Datuk Seri Najib proved that he was not worthy of being called a statesman as he was previously known," Mr Khairul Azwan told reporters at the Aidilfitri Open House at the Perak Tengah District Council on Sunday.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has also warned he would expose Dr Mahathir's shame if he continued to criticise the government's leadership.
Last month's announcement of the setting up of an RCI came after Prime Minister Najib Razak was hit by a third civil lawsuit by the United States Department of Justice to seize US$540 million (S$751 million) in assets allegedly stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said at that time that the initiation of the RCI on the 25-year-old forex scandal was a desperate attempt to divert the attention of the public on the more recent scandals in the country.
The secretary-general of Democratic Action Party called for the setting up of RCIs on other scandals plaguing the country, including Felda Global Ventures Holdings and 1MDB.
"Why form RCI only for a 25-year-old scandal? Why not other scandals as well?" he said in comments carried by local media.