KUALA LUMPUR - The "elites" of Malaysia have chosen sides and declared allegiance to either Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, once the most powerful man in the country, or Prime Minister Najib Razak.
After Umno Youth's grand show of support for Datuk Seri Najib during a closed-door dialogue on Tuesday, its chief Khairy Jamaluddin proclaimed he was part of "Team 1Malaysia", and not "Team Vision 2020", the Malaysiakini news website reported yesterday.
"1Malaysia" is Mr Najib's catch phrase while "Vision 2020" was initiated by Dr Mahathir. The former prime minister has launched an offensive against Mr Najib, demanding answers to a host of questions - including the issue of mounting debt at state-owned investment agency 1Malaysia Development Berhad - that have plagued the Najib administration.
"I'm no hypocrite. Yes, I ask for issues to be explained and Mahathir to be answered but at the end of the day, I am a Cabinet member," Mr Khairy, who is youth and sports minister, was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
"I cannot be a thorn in the flesh or an enemy in the ranks. I am a Cabinet member. I am Team 1Malaysia with PM Najib Abdul Razak," Mr Khairy told a forum at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, on Tuesday.
Dr Mahathir, in power from 1981 to 2003, has lashed out at Mr Najib, saying Malaysians no longer trust the Prime Minister, and that the coalition will lose the next general election due by 2018 if he stays in office, Bloomberg has reported.
As Dr Mahathir stepped up his attacks, Mr Najib spoke for an hour on national television last week, saying he has a mandate and will remain the leader as long as he has the support of his party and citizens.
His deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, later backed him.
Mr Najib's predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Mr Khairy's father-in-law, stepped down in 2009 after Dr Mahathir led calls for his resignation.
Meanwhile, two popular local artists have pledged their support for Dr Mahathir after the former leader said he was alone in the quest for answers over the various issues he raised with Mr Najib, The Malaysian Insider (TMI) website reported.
Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, who has been in showbiz for the past 20 years, said her support would always be with Dr Mahathir.
"Love you Tun and am always with Tun... Tun's leadership history in facing many challenges and adversities in developing Malaysia that it has become known in the world, should be appreciated and emulated," Datuk Siti wrote in Malay on the social networking site Instagram.
The posting has received 19,100 likes since it was put up on Monday.
And actress Rozita Che Wan told Dr Mahathir he was not alone, but added that no one would listen to their questions as they were only "ordinary folks", according to the TMI.
Dr Mahathir has also found supporters in the opposition camp.
Former Umno vice-president, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib, who is now a Parti Islam SeMalaysia member, said the ex-premier can always count on the silent majority for support.