PETALING JAYA - An array of Malaysian political leaders past and present including former foes stood together on Friday (March 4) to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation from office at a press conference chaired by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity across the political divide, civil society leaders and opposition politicians joined their former rival Dr Mahathir to sign a declaration backing his movement to seek the removal of Mr Najib.
"We're not here as representatives of parties and NGOs (non-government organisations). We are here as citizens of Malaysia," Dr Mahathir told reporters.
"It's not about joining the opposition or joining any particular group. It's about citizens joining together to show support," he said.
The signed declaration by a total of 58 representatives on Friday entailed four demands. They included the removal of Mr Najib as Prime Minister through legal non-violent means, the removal of those who acted in concert with Mr Najib, the repeal of laws that violate fundamental rights, and the restoration of institutions whose integrity has been undermined such as the police, Bank Negara, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission(MACC) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Dr Mahathir had on Monday (Feb 29) quit the ruling Umno party, saying he could no longer stay in Umno because the party had turned into an organisation dedicated to supporting the scandal-plagued Najib.
He had also proposed the setting up of a core group to oust Mr Najib, and the Opposition parties had in recent days indicated their willingness to cooperate with the former premier.
Among those who were in attendance at Friday's meeting were opposition heavyweights, including Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang, Parti Keadilan Rakyat Deputy President Azmin Ali and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu.
Opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) MP Mahfuz Omar and PAS elections director Datuk Mustafa Ali also attended as concerned citizens, even though PAS had said it would opt out of the core group.
The opposition figures were flanked by their old rivals from Barisan Nasional who have been outspoken in their criticism of Mr Najib. They included Dr Mahathir's son and former Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was suspended from the party last week, and former Malaysian Chinese Association president Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik.
Other members of the core group included former Cabinet minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and prominent voices in Malaysian civil society, including the leaders of the Bersih electoral reform group Ambiga Sreenevasan and Maria Chin Abdullah.
Mr Najib has been under pressure to step down since last year over the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) amid allegations that funds from 1MDB had been channelled into his private accounts. He has said he has not used the funds for personal gain, and has been cleared of any criminal offence or corruption.
Dismissing the declaration, the government in a statement said the move by Dr Mahathir and his allies "demonstrated the depth of their political opportunism and desperation". "There is an existing mechanism to change the Government and Prime Minister. It's called a general election. And it is the only mechanism that is lawful, democratic, and fulfils the people's will," the statement added.