Malaysia not a dictatorship, says Najib

Mr Najib at an Umno meeting, with the seat on his right usually taken up by Mr Muhyiddin visibly empty on Friday.
Mr Najib at an Umno meeting, with the seat on his right usually taken up by Mr Muhyiddin visibly empty on Friday.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PM's remarks follow suspension of Umno deputy chief Muhyiddin

Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday said Malaysia is not a dictatorship and practises democracy, a day after canning his Umno deputy president and with the police trying to shut down voices critical of the government, including former premier Mahathir Mohamad and prominent news site The Malaysian Insider (TMI).

Datuk Seri Najib said Malaysia allows its citizens to vote and elect their government every five years, but in between general elections, the government needs to maintain political stability.

"We are not a dictatorship nor do we rule with an iron fist. We are a government that respects the principles of parliamentary democracy," he told residents at the launch of a community complex yesterday.

The suspension of Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin has put Mr Najib in a strong position in the country's biggest party since the financial scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) exploded early last year, analysts say. He removed Tun Dr Mahathir's son Mukhriz Mahathir as Kedah's menteri besar earlier this month, and Dr Mahathir has been questioned by police for criticising the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, TMI, which often carries reports critical of Mr Najib, has been on the back foot since Thursday. This was after the government's multimedia watchdog blocked the site for publishing what the police said was a report regarding government firm SRC International that could confuse the public.

And while allegations against 1MDB remain under investigation by the authorities in Switzerland, Singapore and other countries, it should not cause Mr Najib too many problems at home. "It will be embarrassing if he goes abroad but one criterion of being a politician is having a thick skin. I don't think international pressures will cause domestic changes," Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of think-tank Ideas, told The Sunday Times.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin yesterday claimed former attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail, sacked by PM Najib last July, had shown him evidence the RM42 million (S$14 million) in SRC International funds moved into Mr Najib's account was a criminal offence. "Regarding the money that was said to have been debited into Najib's personal accounts from SRC... I was told about it by the former AG himself, along with the evidence that proves it is a crime," Mr Muhyiddin told reporters. Tan Sri Gani declined to comment when asked by Malaysiakini news site about Mr Muhyiddin's claims.

Meanwhile, Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor warned Mr Muhyiddin he could be sacked if he persists to condemn the party's leadership.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia not a dictatorship, says Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe