KUALA LUMPUR - Critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak are set to take to the streets as soon as next weekend if he refuses to step down over a United States lawsuit which claims at least US$3.5 billion (S$4.7 billion) was siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state investor that the Malaysian leader controls.
Democratic reform advocates Bersih - made up of 94 civil society bodies - said it was mulling another street protest to renew calls for Datuk Seri Najib's resignation, while the main opposition alliance also gave the premier a week before it would take "political action".
"Bersih's process is we have to consult the NGOs before we actually make any decision. That is definitely an agenda on the table," Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah told reporters on Friday (July 22).
The group, which started as an opposition-backed electoral reforms coalition in 2005, has held four demonstrations in the past nine years, drawing tens of thousands to the streets of Kuala Lumpur each time.
In August last year, close to 100,000 brought the capital to a standstill as Bersih demanded Mr Najib's resignation in an overnight rally.
The top leadership of opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan's (PH) also issued an ultimatum to the premier on Thursday night, giving him up to next Friday to vacate his office and call for an emergency parliamentary session to explain the issue.
It also demanded that the government set up a royal commission of inquiry into the claims set out by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday. In a court filing, the DOJ names Mr Najib's stepson Riza Aziz and businessman Low Taek Jho as having laundered money out of 1MDB, and ordered the seizure of US$1 billion in assets linked to the two.
"If he (Mr Najib) and the Cabinet fail to implement these three demands by July 29, then Pakatan Harapan will mobilise the people in a political action on Saturday, July 30, 2016, as a sign of protest against Datuk Seri Najib's administration," the opposition pact's presidential council said in a statement.
A Bersih leader told The Straits Times on Thursday that the steering committee had met that afternoon, and "to me, we should definitely hold Bersih 5".
Also on Thursday, former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has spearheaded the campaign to topple Mr Najib over claims that some US$700 million found in the PM's personal accounts was stolen from taxpayers, also called for a "peaceful rally" to demand the latter steps down.
Mr Najib, who maintains that he has not used public funds and that the money was a political donation from the Saudi royal family, insisted on Thursday that the DOJ's move "is a civil action, this is not a criminal action. It is limited to the names mentioned in the DOJ report".
The ruling Umno's information chief Annuar Musa accused PH of "cheap politics" in issuing their ultimatum, saying that Mr Najib, the party president, "is not at all involved in any civil or criminal charge".
"In fact, this action (by the DOJ), so long as it is according to legitimate rules and laws, is welcome. A fair investigation and action based on law will help untangle the many complex issues involving 1MDB that is the subject of repeated political attempts to make baseless allegations, specifically against the Prime Minister. We are confident this process will also clear innocent people from wild allegations," he said in a statement.
Mr Najib's family members have also criticised him and Mr Riza in the wake of the DOJ's allegations. His brother Nazir Razak, who is also chairman of CIMB, one of the region's biggest banks, pointed out that The Edge newspaper had made a similar report a year ago, and was slapped with a suspension.
"Today, the US Attorney General is saying pretty much the same thing. Democracy is not just about elections, it's also about integrity of institutions, the rule of law and freedom of the media," he said in the latest attack on the administration's handling of the 1MDB affair.
Mr Najib's stepdaughter Azrene Soraya Abdul Aziz - born to his wife Rosmah Mansor and her first husband - also posted on Facebook that her brother Riza "chose, like many others before him, to have fame, wealth and adulation. He is now paying the price for it".
"I have always maintained that if Riza did indeed use and profit from stolen funds he needs to pay for what he has done. If he stood as proxy or as a trustee for what does not belong to him or any individual who asked him to be the "dutiful son", he needs to pay for it," she wrote.
She also told her mother that "you have utilised and mobilised government resources to wreak terror to harass us over the last 10 years for standing up for what we believe to be right".
"Please do not forsake another just so that you and your husband can get off scott-free. It is time for YOU to step to the plate and do what is right. Be. A. Mother".