The Malaysian government has sacked Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as adviser to state oil company Petronas, exactly a week after the former premier brought together a broad alliance that aims to remove Prime Minister Najib Razak from power, in a move that threatens to worsen their clash.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a brief statement yesterday that the Cabinet had discussed the actions of Dr Mahathir, "particularly in launching the so-called Citizens' Declaration with opposition leaders last week". It decided that "he should no longer hold any position related to the Government" as he has stopped supporting it.
"The declaration aims to topple the democratically elected government led by the Prime Minister, and is therefore against the law and the Federal Constitution. Therefore, the Cabinet today agreed unanimously to terminate the appointment of Tun Mahathir as adviser to Petronas," the statement said.
Established in 1974, Petroliam Nasional Berhad, or Petronas, grew to become Malaysia's only Fortune 500 company from the 1990s when Dr Mahathir was in power. It has 39,000 employees and is the country's single biggest taxpayer as well as the owner of the Petronas Twin Towers complex. It said in November that it expected to pay RM16 billion (S$5.4 billion) in dividends to the government this year, compared with RM26 billion last year.
The sacking of Dr Mahathir, 90, who has an office atop one of the towers, could cause a strong backlash against the Najib administration, analysts say. Datuk Seri Najib is already accused of abusing his position to sack critics from government, including the deputy prime minister and attorney-general.
There has also been widespread controversy over questionable dealings at large state firms, including 1Malaysia Development Berhad, leading to public concern over the level of influence the embattled leader might exert on these companies to shore up his position.
Mr Najib had faced pressure from some Umno leaders to sack Dr Mahathir from Petronas and his chairmanship of national carmaker Proton, after the former PM signed the declaration with opposition and civil society leaders.
Proton was started by Dr Mahathir as Malaysia's national carmaker in 1983 but was taken private by DRB-Hicom in 2012.
However, Cabinet minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan said yesterday that the government would not interfere in Dr Mahathir's role at Proton.
"Proton is a private company. So (it's) up to their shareholders, not Cabinet," he said on Twitter.
Dr Mahathir's group - now known as the Save Malaysia movement - comprises Umno rebels such as suspended party deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin as well as civil society leaders and veteran opposition figures Lim Kit Siang and Mohamed Sabu. Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had expressed his support of the alliance even though he was sacked from the deputy prime minister's post by Dr Mahathir in 1998.