Malaysian PM Najib's position 'secure' despite pressure to resign

Most division chiefs support him, say Umno politicians

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak's position as the country's leader is secure for the time being, despite calls from Tun Mahathir Mohamad, his former boss and the country's longest-serving prime minister, to resign.

Umno politicians and a government source say most of the division heads of Datuk Seri Najib's ruling Umno party are behind him.

"As for now, there is no reason for him to step down," Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Umno MP and chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, told The Straits Times. "He has the support of Umno's Supreme Council and most of the party's division heads for now."

There are 191 division chiefs in Umno out of a total membership of 3.47 million. Umno's Supreme Council, comprising 25 members, is a powerful decision-making body within the party.

"If the Supreme Council decides not to support him, then he (Najib) will be under more pressure to step down because he would have lost the support of the party seniors. Right now, they support him," said Mr Nur Jazlan.

Last Saturday, Dr Mahathir said Mr Najib's performance as premier was worse than that of his predecessor Abdullah Badawi. Tun Abdullah succeeded Dr Mahathir as prime minister in 2003 but was forced to step down in 2009 after disagreeing with him over policies.

The Malaysian Insider online news portal yesterday reported that Dr Mahathir recently met Mr Najib privately over his criticism of the latter's rule, according to Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club chief Shahrir Samad, who was speaking to reporters at Parliament. Tan Sri Shahrir did not say when the meeting took place.

Mr Najib, who is also Finance Minister, is facing increased public scrutiny over the debt-ridden state-owned investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that he started and which is facing allegations of misuse of funds. Mr Najib denies the allegations and has said that he supports an audit of 1MDB.

The 2006 murder of Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu also continues to make headlines. Her death raised allegations that she was killed to silence her over alleged kickbacks in the 2002 purchase of French submarines when Mr Najib was defence minister.

His troubles have been further exacerbated by the death of his close confidant and aide, Tan Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis, in a helicopter crash last Saturday. Dr Jamaluddin was an Umno Supreme Council member.

A source close to the government believes Dr Mahathir launched his attack against Mr Najib because he was worried about Umno losing the next general election in 2018. The former leader was concerned about negative sentiment against the government as it implements a national goods and services tax.

"This is happening at a time when issues like 1MDB and Altantuya are coming to the fore, to add to the negative sentiment," added the source. "But Najib's position is secure as 99 per cent of Umno division heads support him," said the source, adding: "Mahathir does not wield the same influence as he did before, as he no longer controls Umno."

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